While the pandemic has hurt many dealersâ€™ traditional office supplies sales, the channel has enjoyed some success with jan/san and PPE. We have also witnessed the birth of some new categories that have emerged in direct response to COVID-19â€”but which may be here to stay
EDITORIAL Well, what a couple of months it has been since the last issue! Let me begin by saying that I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving weekend in these strangest of times. The good news is there are potentially effective vaccines on the way, raising hopes that by next November, we might be returning to some sort of normality. Until then, the pandemic continues to devastate communities and businesses across the country. There are IDC members who have no doubt been hit hard and our best wishes go to all affected dealerships out there. In this issue, we have tried to pull together a raft of product information to help you going forward. First up, we take a look at a number of the new, COVID-19-related products that have brought dealers some success during the pandemic. Then, there is an in-depth piece about what the market is going to look like in 2021 and beyond for another in-demand, and highly disrupted product: the disposable glove. Finally, we have pieces from both of the major wholesalers about their marketing plans to help support dealers in the year ahead. There is also a bumper crop of columns in which respected industry figures offer personal views on various aspects of our business, as well as the usual news and dealer updates. I doubt I’m alone in very much looking forward to the New Year and saying goodbye to what, let’s face it, has been a pretty awful start to the decade. As I said, there is hope on the horizon in the shape of a number of different vaccines; but the IDC should be proud of the contribution it has made during these troubled times as an essential service to its customers and the public at large. I wish you all the happiest of holidays and all the best for a very different New Year!
Nebraska dealer Eakes Office Solutions turns 75
Founded in 1945 by typewriter repairman Howard Eakes, Eakes Office Solutions has grown from two employees in Grand Island, Nebraska to more than 250 staff across 13 locations in the state. Originally named Office Equipment Company, the dealer continued to add new business offerings over the years, such as filing systems and office supplies in 1952; copiers and printers toward the end of the 1970s; furniture and design services in 1998; janitorial supplies in 2014; and technology services in 2019. Howard’s two sons, Dan and Ron, took over the running of Eakes in the 1980s and 1990s; and current president and CEO Mark Miller in 2002. Eakes offers five distinct and separate product categories—office supplies, office machines, office furniture, janitorial supplies and technology services—and has around 260 employees. This number is down from a high of about 285 two years ago, when office products were removed from nine of its retail locations. “Walk-in retail shopping has been replaced with online and we were behind in removing
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Winner’s Circle CONTINUED FROM PAGE 2 retail,” explained Mark. “As retail was the ‘face’ of our company, we did it very systematically and with care. We wanted to look after our employees and to be sure to tell our communities that we weren’t going away—just adapting to how people shop now. All of those facilities are still open in the heart of each community; but instead of selling office supplies in a retail format, we showcase product in categories that are bought less frequently online, like photocopiers, janitorial equipment and contract furniture.” In fact, 60 to 70 percent of Eakes’ office supplies and janitorial sales are now online. But, as Mark points out, while other categories may not “pull the trigger” for e-commerce, they are still researched online: “Our website is geared for both research and e-commerce, whichever the customer needs.” The dealership has a steady annual sales growth trend, and is expanding
organically in product categories and on a geographic basis. Part of this growth is attributed to its interest in merging or acquiring businesses that are ready to sell—primarily within its footprint, but also in the copiers and janitorial categories. “We have bought 10 or 12 dealers in the last few years, so our team knows how to make the transition good for the seller and its customers. We maintain an approach to these transactions that seems to work well for all parties involved,” said Mark. One move that Eakes is immensely proud of is the change in ownership structure that started in 2015. Mark explained: “We decided to redefine our succession strategy and open up ownership to more employees. The purpose of this was twofold. First, we felt that if we could give more people ownership opportunities, it may help overall employee engagement with the company. Second, we had a number of
owners with significant stock who were soon to retire. At that time, we had 10 owners and we are over 30 today. I wish we could get more key employees in the group and we will over time. Otherwise, this has been a really nice move.” There’s no secret formula to success, but Eakes has cultivated a company that people admire and want to work for. It hires really good staff and is unafraid to make difficult decisions. “You need people you can get along with and who work hard at what they do; this includes those in top positions,” said Mark. “The longer I have been around, the more I recognize the value of those willing to offer a differing opinion to the leadership group. Right now, we have that, and I can see really positive results.” As a parting tip, he advised: “You should always be willing to initiate changes—especially the hard ones— that will make you a better company.”
Commercial Furniture Solutions, based in Perry’s home market of Temple, in 2018; and bought the office products division of Mackie’s in Waco earlier this year.
“We continue to grow and have Central Texas to thank for that,” said Harry. “Our neighbors keep making the decision to buy locally and today we’re stronger than ever.”
Acquisition for Perry Office Plus in Texas Perry Office Plus of Temple, Texas has expanded its presence in its home state with the acquisition of the Austin branch of Tejas Office Products. The branch began as Convenience Office Supply in the 1980s and rebranded to Office Edge in 2013. In Spring 2018, it was acquired by Houston-based Tejas Office Products. Danny Lowe, manager of the Austin branch, has been with the company for more than 20 years and will remain with Perry in a business development role. “We have been delivering to our Austin customers for a number of years, so this is a great way to solidify our position in the market and create an even better experience for both our current and new customers,” said Perry Office Plus president Harry Macey. This is the third acquisition for Perry in the past two years. It acquired NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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Thank You.12.5M Raised!
City of Hope thanks this year’s honoree, Stephanie Dismore and her amazing HP team. Congratulations to the National Business Products Industry and our Sponsors for helping us raise $12.5 million in this challenging time. You Reinvented Hope! HEROES FOR HOPE 3M ACCO Brands AFFLINK Avery DM Supplies Network Domtar Essendant Fellowes Brands Georgia-Pacific GOJO Industries HP Inc. The HON Company International Paper LDI Newell Brands Oﬀice Depot OPI Quill Safco S.P. Richards Co. Smead Manufacturing Company Spinitar Staples, Inc. CHAMPIONS OF HOPE AOPD OPWIL Wist.com NOVEMBER/DECEMBER JULY/AUGUST 2020 2020
DIAMOND CIRCLE Independent Dealer Magazine Pilot Pen Corp. of America TOPS Products WB Mason PERSONAL GIVING SUPERSTARS GMP PLATINUM Jamie & Deby Fellowes Wayne Stillwagon GMP GOLD Bob & Lisa Aiken Sharon & Terry Avent John & Brittany Fellowes Dick & Beth Gochnauer Jack & Goldie Wolfe Miller Ron & Jill Sargent Steve & Debbie Schmidt Steve & Pam Schultz Rick & Katie Toppin GMP SILVER Jess & Lill Beim CDW Scott & Kelly Light Ron & Phyllis Shaw Norm & Kim Wesley
GMP BRONZE Wayne & Lucy Beacham Matt & Carrie Dodd Mike Fiterman Dave Guernsey Chuck & Donna Harstad Irwin & Betty Helford Walter Johnsen Harry Macey Bob & Cindy Mairena Brad Mills Dave & Carol Schenker FRIENDS FOR HOPE Paul Auchterlonie Casey Avent Rick Bartlett Jeﬀ Bobroﬀ Jim Bolger Tim Burgett Dennis Burleigh Steve Calkins David Centrella Les Christian Gordon Christiansen Craig Church Mark Cooper Stephanie Dismore Harry Dochelli
Paul Donahue Bruce Eaton Bob Enk Jim Fahey Rebecca Fisher Tom Gallagher Mike Gentile Mary Gibson John Givens Dan Glass Brad & Vicki Graves Bert Herring Steve Hilleard Jeﬀ Howard Jeﬀrey Jett Remi Kent John Kenworthy Bill Koehn Barry Lane Randy Larrimore Jeﬀ Lattanzio Chad Lee Steve Lynn Mike Maggio Jim Matese Robert Meucci Don Mikolasy Rick Morgan Bob Ouellette
Steve Paccone Jack Reagan Clem Restaino Mark Rhoades Sam Richardson Mike Robledo Peter Scala Tony Scibilia Moe Shafer Brooks Smith Renee Starr Greg Strand Joe & Vickie Templet James Timberlake Kevin Toale Alan Tomblin Lori Welch Marlin Wendland Bryan White Mark Whitlow David Williamson Martin Woodward LEGIONS OF HOPE Brian Bowerfind Jim Bettinger Stacey Bjorklund Harry Clow Peter Drozdowicz
Peter Fahrenkopf Steve Fitzgerald Robert Flynn Charles Fuller Paul Gatens Stephen Glass James Halley Travis Kaste Mark Leazer Phil Leckinger Jon Lindholm Nick Lomax Kevin Mathis Tom McCarron Jeﬀ Metzgar Vonnie Provinzino Matt Roberts Robert Roth Bob Shulman Matt Taufen Katie Varrassi Paul Ventimiglia Dan Wagner Greg Welchans Monte White
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Business Essentials acquires Firmin’s in Texas Business Essentials of Grapevine, Texas has acquired Firmin’s Office City, which has sites in Texarkana and Longview, Texas. Firmin’s was founded in 1918 by Harry Firmin as Firmin’s Printing. In the late 1940s, under the leadership of second-generation owner Charles Sr., it purchased Paulson’s Office Supply and got into the office products business. Charles Jr. started working at Firmin’s in the 1950s and retired in the early 2000s. Charles III (Chuck) will stay with the business as part of the deal. Initially, the family name will remain, as the dealership will be known as Firmin’s Business Essentials; but the long-term plan is to bring it entirely under the Business Essentials brand. “We’ve known Chuck for quite a while and have always known him to be a straight-up guy,” said Business Essentials co-owner Marty Beck. “We heard that he might be interested in a sale and that he might be interested in talking to us, and it went from there.” The deal expands Business Essentials’ reach in Texas and adds to overall sales volume. “These days, you have to get bigger to compete effectively,” explained Marty. “The smaller guys have to wear a lot of hats, and can find themselves treading water and spending a lot of time traveling from place to place putting out fires. Having more volume means, as an owner, you can wear fewer hats.” Pictured right: (l-r) Marty Beck, Chuck Firmin, Ruby Firmin and Chris Crumpton for Business Essentials.
EZ Office Products recognized by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council EZ Office Products (EZOP) of Madison, Wisconsin has retained its Green Professional status as part of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s (WSBC) Green Masters Program. EZOP joined the initiative last year and its score has improved by 35 percent from 2019 to 2020, with the most notable progress in the areas of carbon, supply chain, workforce, governance and education and outreach. WSBC supports environmental efforts for local businesses. The Green Masters Program is designed to
provide companies with an objective view of both their sustainability initiatives and the role of sustainability as a business value driver, as well as a performance comparison to other companies in their sector. Rose Molz, president of EZOP, said: “The journey to becoming a more sustainable office supply company has continued and it is very rewarding to see the improvements we have made over the past year. One of the places where I feel we have had the greatest impact is in our community outreach, which is very important to all of us at EZOP. Also, we’ve made INDEPENDENT DEALER
strides in reducing our carbon footprint and waste, for both our own company and clients.” Rose continued: “2020 has brought new challenges and we have had to re-examine ways to ‘be green.’ Our method of delivery has had to pivot, as many customers’ work locations have changed. In addition, the team successfully determined ways to bring new environmentally focused products to customers to keep them safe during a pandemic—this is one of the things that makes me proudest. We will continue our work in all of these areas!” PAGE 6
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Driven by ever increasing consumer demand, the innovative and mistake-free FriXion line now includes a variety of vibrant options and colors in gel ink, highlighter and marker pens. FriXion pens by Pilot have quickly grown to become the #1 selling brand of erasable pens in America!*
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER JULY/AUGUST 2020 2020
*FriXion is the #1 Selling Erasable Pen Brand/The NPD Group/Retail & Commercial/US Dollar Sales/Data on file.
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Steubenville, Ohio-based Borden Office Equipment has acquired McGhee Office Supplies and Furniture of Wheeling, West Virginia. The companies felt it was important to retain the McGhee name, so it has been incorporated with the Borden logo. While McGhee has become a division of Borden, owner and president Andy Poe will stay with the merged company, overseeing the Wheeling-St. Clairsville market. McGhee was established in 1923 by Poe’s maternal great-grandfather and has remained within the family, with Andy’s parents, Bruce and Sally, working there for 40 years until their recent retirement. Borden opened in 1929, and its fourth and current owner and president, Jerry Simpson, started working at the firm in 1981. “My interest in McGhee started this summer, when it was brought to my attention they may want to sell. We both agreed it would be ridiculous to proceed during the middle of the pandemic, but realized we would be in a great position if we did when this was over,” said Jerry. The deal has expanded Borden’s footprint in both Ohio and West Virginia, adding around 325 accounts to its current customer base. “The similarities between the two companies made the merger much easier than expected. We are both Essendant first call and members of Independent Suppliers Group, and we dealt with mostly the same vendors. McGhee was not a machine dealer, so we can offer Canon and Kyocera machines to Andy’s current clients along with service. Also, we have been able to hire an additional three people amid these crazy times,” commented Jerry.
FriendsOffice of Findlay, Ohio has once again shown its support for the Blanchard Valley Health System and the Julie Cole Foundation through its involvement in the Julie Cole Charity Golf Classic. Pushed back from its traditional June timing to October due to the pandemic, the FriendsOffice team offered drinks, giveaways and demonstrations throughout the day. “I prefer this outing over any other because the golfers are all C-suite,” said FriendsOffice CEO Ken Schroeder. “Attendees are representatives of Fortune 100 companies for the day and I am told we’ve become known as ‘The Friends gals with the office chairs’ after eight years of participating—that recognition helps us tremendously.” This year, the dealer partnered with Indiana Furniture/Webb Contract and Canberra Corporation for the occasion. Indiana provided three office chairs for the eighth hole, where golfers tried to swing while sitting in a bid to hit their ball over the river to qualify for a chance to win one of the chairs. Canberra capitalized on the opportunity to showcase its electrostatic backpack unit while also attempting to hit the ball over the water. “We truly maximize our sponsorships to the best of our abilities,” said FriendsOffice director of communications Ashley Barger. “The goal is to get participants to love us during the event and remember us afterwards. This year, we were informed the cocktail we provided at our tent was the best! We had golfers circle back and grab a refill of our Hot Toddy, made with Green Mountain Apple Cider. Post-event, we’ve sent a cinnamon stick and a little notecard with our drink recipe.”
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Virginia dealer hosts successful webinar series During the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic, information on health and safety within the workplace has never been more important. Recognizing this, Miller’s Supplies at Work, based in Lorton, Virginia, launched a webinar to educate customers and staff on a new product class: PPE. The first online episode, The Employee, showcased the various types of available masks and their functions. “We were blown away with the participation for the first webinar, with over 400 people watching. We additionally held the virtual event for smaller customer groups, Chambers of Commerce and our sales reps,” said director of sales Rick Lewis. From the feedback received, Miller’s realized there was a pressing need for more “big-picture” data on current workplace health, hygiene and safety,
resulting in a second webinar entitled The Office, which focused on this topic. As science has revealed COVID-19 is airborne, Miller’s enlisted the help of Fellowes to provide details in a third webinar, The Air We Share, regarding air filtration and its importance in combating viruses and germs, as well as valuable information on how its AeraMax system works. “We’re extremely happy with the engagement and the positive remarks received from hosting the webinars. I estimate that around 700 customers, including prospects, have viewed the videos,” says Rick. The team at Miller’s believes that while videoconferencing and webinars have become indispensable tools during the pandemic, they will also help future-proof the sales process. “From our point of view, technology like Zoom
California dealer takes bite out of hunger
Palace Business Solutions, Santa Cruz, California has been supporting Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Cruz County for over eight years. Every year during October, Palace “takes a bite out of hunger” by providing meals—so far, over 100,000 meals have been donated to the cause. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
International Paper was the first vendor Palace Business Solutions partnered with for the initiative, and the focus was on selling its Hammermill Great White recycled paper. Customers merely had to purchase a case of the paper and Palace would supply 10 meals to Second Harvest. Over the past few years, HP Inc has also participated in the campaign: for each customer buying $250 of ink and toner on one invoice, Palace donates up to 100 meals. This year, Palace is providing 8,800 meals, which is not as many as in the past, due to the impact of COVID-19. CEO and owner Gary Trowbridge said: “This was a disappointing year for our donation, as in 2019 we gave $5,000; but as you know, COVID-19 has hit us all hard, with schools out and many office employees working from home. But we decided to launch the promotion anyway and honestly, we’re very grateful for our customer support. “The best part about this campaign INDEPENDENT DEALER
is an effective way to communicate with a lot of people at the same time. We are trying to impress upon our staff that the use of such digital tools represents just another evolution in sales strategy. We need to stay relevant—not only in these times, but looking toward a new generation of buyers entering the workforce who will interact differently.”
is we do not lower our sell prices and simply take the marketing money we accrue from our vendors and use it for our donation to the food bank. It’s a win for Palace, as we see significant growth in sales for items in the campaign; a win for our customers to be able to support the local community; and a win for Second Harvest, as $1 donated buys four meals.” Second Harvest Food Banks sources over 8 million pounds of food each year and distributes to 100 food pantries, schools, group homes, youth centers and more, plus another 100 Second Harvest program sites. “They are tangibly making a difference in the lives of people within our area and we are privileged to partner with them,” said Palace Business Solutions Customer Care Manager Brittany Overbeck. “We’ve found cause marketing a great means to promote specific products and a simple way to help our customers give back to the community.” PAGE 10
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Winner’s Circle CONTINUED FROM PAGE 10 McGarity’s boosts COVID-19 fund
McGarity’s Business Products of Gainesville, Georgia has not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop it from supporting the Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) Foundation; in fact, just the opposite. McGarity’s was more than happy to be a sponsor of the Foundation’s Medical Center Open for the 24th year. All proceeds from the fundraiser go to the NGHS COVID-19 Relief Fund, which supports NGHS employees, funds the deployment of patient care resources and enhances the NGHS telehealth program. The foundation and its mission are very dear to the McGarity family, with Scott McGarity—previous owner of McGarity’s—directly involved as a board member. “We continue this relationship with our new ownership group, which is Todd Pennington (president), Will Hudson (vice president and director of operations) and me,” said marketing manager Colby Merchant. Working around the pandemic, teams were allowed to schedule tee times over October as a way to socially distance the tournament. “We sponsor what is called the 19th hole. Usually, this is an event after the tournament where teams and volunteers unwind with food and drinks while the winners and amount raised are announced—this year, it totaled $306,000,” added Colby.
Students benefit with Nolans in Texas
Ensuring students in San Antonio, Texas can continue learning from home, local dealer Nolans Office and Promotional Products has donated desks and chairs, as well as other school items. “We realized that not everyone could afford or have the means to provide their children with a place to learn online and wanted to help. We reached out to schools in the area, and our first donation was for Southwest ISD and Southside ISD students. We provided desks and chairs, plus a goodie bag of coloring pencils, a coloring book and paper for some added fun,” said marketing manager Madison Moser. The dealer has also provided vital educational furniture for Highland Hills Elementary, San Antonio Independent School District and Edgewood Independent School District students who required a place to study at home. “COVID-19 has changed the way schooling is done this year and we wanted to support the community. We hope all families and students get the most out of their new desks,” said Madison. Nolans has also been busy aiding the community throughout the pandemic in other ways, including donating almost 2,000 rolls of toilet paper to the SA Food Bank to help stock depletion, as well as donating office furniture to Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation. “We honestly intend to give back to our local and surrounding areas when and where we can. We are a small family-owned business and our community means a lot to us.”
» NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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Winner’s Circle CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12 Butler service for the homeless in Texas
National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual event that helps to raise millions of dollars for local service providers. Founded in 1975 at Villanova University, the program includes hundreds of thousands of participants across more than 700 locations. This year, the event was held from November 15-22 and Butler Business Products, Houston, Texas, put out a call to customers to help the Houston Food Bank. To make it easy to help, Butler offered to pick up any supplies of non-perishable items for donation when orders were being delivered. “We are in our fourth year of participating in the food donations. During this crazy time of COVID-19, we understand it can be harder to deliver items to a shelter, so we wanted to include our customers in the chance to donate,” said marketing assistant Samantha Waters. “I think the biggest reason behind why we choose to participate is that everyone undergoes hardships,” she added. “We try to help out the community as much as possible because if roles were reversed, we would be so thankful for people to take the time and make us feel appreciated.”
Chalking up support in Indiana
Downtown ChalkFest was started in 2017 as a week-long outdoor art competition with free entry open to partakers of all ages in Richmond, Indiana. This creative community event is organized by the Downtown Business Group, a subcommittee of the Center City Development Corporation. Each year, ChalkFest organizers choose a mystery theme announced on the morning of the competition to inspire artists to cover the sidewalks of Richmond’s downtown park, Elstro Plaza. Thanks to a generous donation each year from local dealer Rosa’s Office360, ChalkFest has been able to provide free chalk to participants, as well as prizes sponsored by numerous downtown merchants in various theme and age bracket categories. Amy Oler Holthouse, a business development manager with Rosa’s Office360, has participated in judging for many years. This year, instead of canceling in light of COVID-19, it was held as an online event and was still a huge success. Contestants were able to pick up their chalk at a designated location and had time to draw, photograph and submit their entries. Judging was done photographically instead of in person. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
Picture perfect in Colorado
Injecting some much-needed fun into business this year, Windsor, Colorado-based My Office Etc launched its first-ever Pet Costume Contest. To encourage customers to enter into the spirit of the competition, My Office Etc employees joined in and dressed up their pets in the office, posting the pictures on Facebook. “We were talking about doing something that would be fun and light-hearted for our customers. This has been a difficult and intense year for so many people, and the team thought it would be nice to bring a little levity and cheer to folks,” said customer service executive Abigail Carnehl. Only one pet picture per contestant was allowed, with three prizes on offer. A total of 10 entries were received, which the team was pretty pleased about. A panel of four judges voted on first, second and third place, with the top prize going to Chrystal at Healthy Vending Ventures and her dog, Carver (see picture). “We have not made a final decision on whether to run the contest again next year, but are certainly leaning in that direction. Those who heard about the competition, along with those who participated, really appeared to enjoy it. It seemed to be a bright spot for them and getting all the entries was a lot of fun—we found out we have some very creative customers!” said Abigail.
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SECRETS of success Richter Total Office, Souderton, Pennsylvania 2020 has been about moving forward, maximising opportunities and making yourself as indispensable as possible— all in an effort to not only survive, but thrive during and, of course, after the pandemic. This is certainly what Richter Total Office has done. And if that name sounds a little unfamiliar, it’s because the family-owned and run dealer—formerly known as Richter Drafting & Office Supply Co, Inc—very recently and impressively underwent a major rebrand in the middle of COVID-19. Vice president Andy Richter, son of company founder and president Al Richter, explains: “Our name was becoming limiting for the company we had become. For customers that knew us, it wasn’t a barrier. But for new prospects, I felt we were missing opportunities because, following a simple search for, say, ‘furniture,’ we wouldn’t immediately be identified as an expert in this area. Also, ‘Richter Drafting & Office Supply Company Incorporated’ is a bit of a mouthful—we were looking for something more concise and marketable. “When looking for a new name, we had a lot of ideas and we knew for sure that ‘Richter’ had to be in it. ‘Richter Total Office’ accomplishes everything, we felt. ‘Richter’ is our identity and heritage; ‘Office’ describes the B2B customers we serve; and ‘Total’ brings it all together— because we do everything.” Indeed, Richter has irons in many fires. The Souderton, Pennsylvania-based dealer has been growing its top line steadily over the past six years by 5 to 10 percent. As at so many other dealerships, the jan/san segment has seen a considerable uptick during the crisis. But as the pre-rebrand name suggests, Richter’s origins lie elsewhere. The company started NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
out as a blueprinting and drafting supply company when it was founded by Al Richter in 1985, before expanding into office supplies in 1987, followed by furniture, jan/san and, most recently, mobile shredding. That said, reprographics remains important: the company was recently recognized as one of the top 40 Canon imagePROGRAF dealers in the country by sales. It’s also the region’s largest stocking dealer of wide format media. Furniture is another vital part of the mix and—outside the pandemic—has been its biggest growth category. Here too, the firm has been expanding its product and geographic reach through onboarding new vendors and offering services such as furniture relocation and deconstruction. In a nod to the importance of this segment, and as part of its rebrand, the dealer has in fact created a separate division called Richter Office Interiors. The final component under the broad company umbrella is Richter Mobile Shredding, an entity born out of the creation of its mobile shredding business in 2007. The business was set up due to customer demand, explains Richter, and the big capital investment it required at the time has since paid off very nicely. Positioning itself as a local—and mostly stockless—player with a strong regional and, on many levels, national reach required the right partners. S.P. Richards (SPR) is one of them and Richter can’t sing its praises highly enough: “We have been an SPR customer for a very long time and they’re a great partner for us. That’s how I see it—a partnership. Their support in the areas of logistics, digital marketing resources, access to category experts etc is invaluable to us. Very importantly also, thanks to their scale, we are able to ‘act’ bigger than we actually are, giving us the ability to service INDEPENDENT DEALER
Year founded: 1985 Key management team: Al Richter (founder/owner/president); Andy Richter (vice-president); Kim Richter (treasurer); Sheila Doerr (office manager); Brian Kelly (warehouse supervisor) Products carried: Office supplies; office furniture; janitorial and breakroom supplies; plotters and engineering copiers; mobile document shredding; drones; promotional products; printing Key business partners: S.P. Richards, ISG, Reprographic Services Association Employees: 20 Percent of sales from online: 50%-60% URLs: www.richteronline.com, www.richtermobileshredding.com, www.richterofficeinteriors.com (being built) large accounts, have polished and resource-rich e-content, and service customers accurately and efficiently.” Customer service, in its most comprehensive form, is certainly the dealer’s hallmark, he adds: “We strive for genuine relationship-building. Not just good customer service—anyone can do that. Our new slogan is, ‘We work for you.’ I want us to be so integrated in our customers’ workflows that they essentially view us as employees. When they place an order and our drivers show up, we don’t need to ask where to put the product; we know exactly what to do. We’ll do their inventory, so they don’t have to worry about running out of anything. And we’ll run usage reports each month so they don’t have to track their invoices. “Tell us what you need, even if it seems extravagant or just plain weird, and we’ll do everything we can to get it done.”
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INDEPENDENT DEALER www.flipsideproducts.com
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IOPFDA merger with ISSA moves forward
As reported in the last issue of INDEPENDENT DEALER, the Independent Office Products & Furniture Dealers Association (IOPFDA)—the umbrella organisation that includes office products association NOPA and the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA)—recently merged with worldwide cleaning association ISSA. IOPFDA represents over 600 members including dealers, manufacturers, wholesalers, manufacturers’ representatives and industry service providers. On 23 October, IOPFDA’s members voted on and approved a proposed merger with ISSA, effective November 1, 2020. IOPFDA executive director Mike Tucker said the “partnership” would deliver opportunities, resources and benefits for his membership, such as access to educational programs, health insurance and other business tools that are currently offered by ISSA. ISSA executive director John Barrett added: “ISSA’s mission is to change the way the world views cleaning in all sectors of the industry. The merger of ISSA and IOPFDA is yet another move toward creating one strong, unified industry.” NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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ECI to be acquired
ECI Software Solutions has announced it is to have a new private equity majority owner. The business management software company has announced that Leonard Green & Partners (LGP) will acquire a majority stake in it from funds advised by Apax Partners and The Carlyle Group. Upon completion of the transaction, Apax, which acquired ECI in 2017, will retain a minority stake in the business. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Under the Apax and Carlyle ownership, ECI has made 15 acquisitions in different industry verticals—helping it gain share and scale internationally – with sizable transactions in Europe and Australia consolidating its presence in those regions. “The ECI team and I have had a powerful partnership with Apax and Carlyle as we have built the company into a leading SaaS business software solutions and services provider,” said ECI CEO Ron Books. “They have been instrumental in the tremendous growth of our company, and we are proud of what we have accomplished together. We are excited to welcome LGP as our new partner, and I am confident that this is the right choice for our future—and the future of our 1,700 employees and more than 22,000 customers.” Usama Cortas, Partner at LGP, commented: “We invest in companies that win with people, have a differentiated culture and are market leaders with multiple ways to grow—and ECI is the perfect example. [It] has built an incredible track record of success, and we are excited to be partnering with ECI Management and Apax to support and accelerate the next phase of the company’s growth.”
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Betsy Hughes joins AOPD Well-known OP executive Betsy Hughes, who left her role as FriendsOffice president of sales and marketing in October, is set to join the team at AOPD as national director of healthcare sales. Hughes spent 24 years at FriendsOffice and is credited with driving multimillion-dollar sales growth at the Findlay, Ohio-based dealership. She was also seen as instrumental in helping the reseller win a place on the key Premier Healthcare group purchasing contract back in 2013. In addition, this year, she worked with AOPD to help renegotiate the Premier contract on behalf of a joint AOPD/ FriendsOffice bid, and assisted in the launch that started on August 1. In her role with AOPD, Hughes will assist AOPD and FriendsOffice dealers in soliciting and landing new healthcare business, while helping them maintain strong relationships
with current customers. AOPD said her contacts within this market will be invaluable to growing the organization’s healthcare segment. “We are confident that Betsy’s expertise and contacts in healthcare will drive growth in this critical vertical for AOPD and the FriendsOffice dealer group for years to come,” said AOPD Executive Director Mark Leazer. “We are looking forward to working with her now on a more formal basis.” Commenting on her appointment, Hughes said: “My passion has been, and always will be, mentoring individuals to become the best they possibly can be and to achieve the highest success. As I looked for a new position, I was hoping to find something that would allow me to bring that passion and purpose. I have found that position with AOPD and I look forward to growing healthcare sales for our dealers.”
One testimonial came from Tonya Horn, CEO of independent dealer Rogards. “Betsy was a major help to my company as we rolled out a national account healthcare contract that [her] company had won,” she said, adding: “She was always available to answer any questions and did a great job of translating a fairly complex agreement into terms that our sales team could take to the street and sell!”
ISG reports on virtual presentations Hundreds of members participated in Independent Suppliers Group’s (ISG) SMART supplier presentations in September and October, the buying group reports. ISG held 17 virtual SMART (which stands for sell, market, attract, retrain and train) meetings. The sessions covered different categories, including facilities supplies, office furniture and traditional office products—with a focus on the current trends of back to business, work from home, healthcare, back to school/ learn from home and other topics relevant to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The SMART Series is one of several virtual events that ISG has organized to connect with its members following the cancellation of Industry Week ’20, powered by ISG.
Lincoln Dix, VP Supplies Division for independent dealer Storey Kenworthy, said: “The SMART series was a valuable resource for our dealership. We had numerous team members attend. The series was professionally presented, was ‘just right’ for length of time and had great content. Not only did we learn more about existing suppliers, but we were introduced to new potential partners and had an invaluable opportunity to experience how a video conference should happen.” Terri Freeman, national account manager, ACCO Brands, commented: “We are grateful for the opportunity to present to ISG members through the SMART Series. Our session was well attended, and the members were very engaged with follow-up questions. Our sales strategies have changed due to COVID-19 and the SMART INDEPENDENT DEALER
Series gave us a valuable venue to communicate our new strategies, product launches and the directions we are taking in this challenging environment.” Industry Week ’21, powered by ISG, is scheduled to take place from 22-26 March 2021 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, bringing together the group’s members, suppliers and industry partners for a week-long agenda featuring one-on-one meetings, seminars, networking and a trade show. PAGE 20
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Industry News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 20 Essendant broadens ISSA and GBAC partnership, holds CORE event Essendant is to offer new resources to its dealers in expanded collaboration with ISSA and the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC). With increased importance being placed on providing clean and safe environments in light of the pandemic, Essendant has been supporting resellers with access to education and resources. A key component of this is the involvement with global cleaning association ISSA and its GBAC division. To date, Essendant and ISSA have offered resellers scholarships to enroll in the GBAC Fundamentals Online Course, Cleaning & Disinfection Principles, and discounted memberships to ISSA for new participants. As an extension of this cooperation, Essendant will now offer grants to help cover the cost for facilities interested in pursuing GBAC STAR facility accreditation. This certification is the cleaning industry’s only outbreak prevention, response and recovery accreditation for facilities. Resellers that are selected will be able to award the grants to their facility customers to attain the credentials. Commenting on the partnership, Essendant VP of sales Renee Starr said: “For resellers that are newer to the cleaning category and existing resellers of this category, the pace of new products, standards and practices has accelerated. We
recognize the importance of providing access to the most complete, highest-quality and up-to-date information.” ISSA Executive Director John Barrett added: “The reseller plays a vital role within the cleaning industry. Partnering with Essendant is a great way to extend the reach of our programming and get our resources in the hands of this essential and influential group. We are grateful for Essendant’s partnership and support.” Meanwhile, Essendant held a three-day virtual event for dealers in October as part of its CORE Learn education series. The event featured a general session and Q&A with Essendant leadership, sales and marketing learning tracks, supplier sessions with updates on their latest research and innovations, and a supplier showcase with opportunities for one-on-one meetings. Starr stated: “Providing education and resources to our customers has always been a priority for us. Our current environment requires this now more than ever. Through a mix of external and internal experts, our CORE Learn event delivered a range of content that addressed some of the questions on the minds of resellers, with practical ideas to help them move forward.” The wholesaler said it would make the content available to customers that were unable to attend.
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Industry News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22 BIC acquires Rocketbook reusable notebook company BIC has announced the acquisition of Boston, Massachusetts-based reusable notebooks supplier Rocketbook. Founded in 2014 by Joe Lemay and Jake Epstein, Rocketbook is a “fast-growing and profitable” company. Its flagship products include the Core and Fusion notebooks: reusable products that are used with erasable pens and powered by the Rocketbook cloud-connected application. The Core range ranks number one in reusable notebooks on Amazon.com. BIC said the acquisition will enhance its position in the stationery category by entering the digital writing segment. Digital writing consists of four main areas: smart notebooks, smart pens, slate tablets and stylus pens. Rocketbook derives 70% of its revenue from the US. BIC expects its extensive reach and international footprint to drive future growth.
BIC will make a payment of around $40 million for Rocketbook. The transaction is expected to be finalized before the end of the year. “At BIC, we are focused on reimagining everyday essentials and introducing new products that enhance peoples’ lives. This acquisition will solve a major challenge for many stationery consumers, providing a way to write that can be easily stored and shared in a quick, efficient, and environmentally conscious manner. It allows us to broaden our consumer offering and accelerate our progress toward more innovative and sustainable solutions,” said Gonzalve Bich, BIC’s chief executive officer. “BIC was founded on the idea of simplicity and making writing accessible to all, and this is the next evolution of that process—creating a gateway for handwriting to move into the digital age. We look forward to
continuing our work with the Rocketbook team and welcoming them to the global BIC community.” Rocketbook co‐founders Joe Lemay and Jake Epstein said, “There is great synergy between BIC and Rocketbook. BIC’s entrepreneurial spirit, values and vision for the future of the category are aligned with how we work and where we want to go. We are over the moon about all of the possibilities for the future as we work together to continue to innovate and grow the brand globally.”
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NeoCon 2021 dates moved
Leading North American commercial interiors show NeoCon will next take place in October 2021. Following the event’s cancellation this year, NeoCon 2021 had been scheduled to take place in June 2021 at theMART in Chicago. Now organizer Merchandise Mart has decided to move it back several more months to October 4-6, at the same venue. “After ongoing discussions with key industry constituencies, as well as careful consideration of CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] forecasts and other reporting, it was determined that the change to fall dates for 2021 would be more favorable for a safe and successful in-person show,” the company said in a press release. The show management said it would
continue to monitor the ever-changing environment and evaluate additional measures, such as adjusting the show hours and length of the event in order to manage attendance flow. Any changes in the show schedule will be
communicated next spring, prior to registration going live in May 2021. NeoCon confirmed it plans to revert to its traditional mid-June dates for the 2022 edition. More details can be found here.
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Recognition for COE Distributing J.D. Ewing, president and CEO of wholesale office furniture distributor COE Distributing, has been appointed to the board of directors of the National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors (NAW) Institute for Distribution Excellence. The NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence is a leading provider of research exclusively for and about the wholesale distribution industry. “We seek board members with intellectual curiosity who are leading thinkers interested in strategies to enhance distributor performance,” commented Patricia A. Lilly, NAW’s chief thought leadership officer. “We are pleased to have J.D. Ewing lend his skills and experience to help guide research to improve the performance and profitability of merchant wholesaler-distributors.” Ewing will serve a four-year term on the board, attending meetings each spring and fall in Washington D.C., and evaluating and giving feedback on research proposals and manuscripts. “I’ve worked diligently to foster collaboration among my team, our customers and vendors, and witnessed open communication and cooperation between all the players pay dividends,” Ewing said. “The opportunity to serve on the NAW Institute Board is an ideal fit for my interest in continually improving operations to provide a better experience for
employees and clients alike.” Meanwhile, COE’s chief financial officer, Mike Flaherty, has been recognized for outstanding performance and corporate stewardship as a recipient of the Pittsburgh Business Times CFO of the Year Award. Flaherty is among just 16 financial professionals in western Pennsylvania honored in the 2020 awards program. Presently in his second year at COE, Flaherty has already proven to be a strong asset to the company. He secured the funding required to foster sustained growth at COE and realized significant savings through a variety of efforts to reduce interest and costs while improving inventory management and purchasing processes. Flaherty’s guidance was key in the company’s recent addition of a distribution center in Houston, and he fulfilled a pivotal role in securing and administering Paycheck Protection Program loans and managing collections to help COE successfully navigate the challenges of COVID-19. “Mike Flaherty is a true A-player, who checks the boxes of being humble, hungry and smart. Not only does he propel his direct team forward with positive leadership, but he also propels our entire company forward in growth and profitability,” said Ewing.
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HP targets healthcare vertical HP Inc hs launched new print solutions for the healthcare industry in October. HP Healthcare Print Solutions has been co-developed with healthcare providers, associations and partners, addressing patient wellness and safety, care coordination, mobility, privacy and security. Products include laptops with broader disinfection capabilities and multifunction printers (MFPs) that feature “Healthcare Edition” keyboards and touch-enabled control panels that are designed to be disinfected regularly. HP has further enhanced the disinfection capabilities of high-touch areas of printers with removable covers/ drapes that can be sterilized daily in an autoclave up to 134°C. The OEM is also working with Clorox Healthcare to offer a guide detailing infection prevention best practices and other educational tools. Other resources include: • touchless use of HP Healthcare Edition MFPs on MPS contracts that use Zebra Technologies’ mobile computers; • IoT handheld and print devices that are designed to reduce the risk of electromagnetic interference;
• RFID patient identification solutions in partnership with Zebra; • digital transmission of patients’ documents and records via an app on HP printers; and • PrintSecure protection on Zebra wristband printers.
ECA by Dekko launches in-surface power and charging solution for conferencing spaces
Power and data supply firm ECA by Dekko has announced the launch of Reef Mini, a conferencing product that provides users with collaborative power, data, USB-A and USB-C charging capabilities.
HP Healthcare Print Solutions are now available for direct MPS customers in North America, with plans to roll out the program across Europe and Asia in 2021. Meanwhile, the Amplify global channel
partner program HP announced in July has now gone live. Built on one integrated structure, Amplify has two tracks called Synergy and Power, with the latter offering deeper collaboration between HP and its resellers in areas such as data sharing. The uptake of Amplify within the channel has been impressive—the company has announced that 99 percent of commercial revenue partners are now registered. Retail partners are set to be onboarded in the second half of 2021.
The cut-out required to install Reef Mini is smaller than that of its predecessor, Reef. An optional convenience outlet, which comes with cord pass-through and can be accessed beneath the work surface once installed, allows for a seamless DaisyLink system in conference applications. “ECA by Dekko has taken one of our most popular products and expanded upon it to include an additional offering with a smaller footprint. Reef Mini illustrates our continued dedication to providing versatile and enhanced technology by including USB-A and USB-C charging ports in a convenient, compact package,” said Char Reynolds vice president of sales at Dekko. PAGE 27
Industry News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 27 Diversey wins top ISSA innovation prize New technology from Diversey that facilitates both cleaning and disinfection of floors in a single application was declared the winner of the 2020 ISSA Innovation Award. Diversey’s TASKI IntelliSpray solution for its ride-on scrubber-drier machines saw off the competition in an online voting process that took place from September 1 to November 18. The award was announced at the closing session of the ISSA Show North America’s Virtual Experience event. The TASKI IntelliSpray was one of five category winners in ISSA’s Innovation Awards program, coming top in the Equipment section. The other winners were: • Cleaning Agents: Botanical Disinfectants by Unilever brand Seventh Generation. • Dispensers: Tork’s PeakServe recessed cabinet adapters. • Services and Technology: Silver Defender antimicrobial protected films. • Supplies and Accessories: OmniClean by Unger Enterprises.
ISSA also held other awards ceremonies during the online event. The Jack D Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award was presented to Brian Slack, CEO of Pro-Link, recognizing the contribution he has made to the cleaning industry over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, Kyle Pickens, regional sales manager with Home Depot Pro was named as the recipient of the ISSA NextGen Rising Star Award in Honor of Jimmy Core. The ISSA Hygieia Network, which is dedicated to the advancement and retention of women in the cleaning industry, also announced its 2020 award winners. The Rising Star of the Year Award— which is open to women aged 45 and under—went to Kim Price, VP of sales force effectiveness at Georgia-Pacific, CPG Customer Organization. The Hygieia Member of the Year Award, which recognizes an industry professional or company that has made a significant contribution to the cleaning industry, was presented to SC Johnson
Professional for its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and excellence in the workplace. Katja von Raven, CEO of SC Johnson Professional, accepted the award.
AmpliVox expands product offering AmpliVox Sounds Systems has released several new products, including lecterns, a home office school desk and safety shields for work surfaces. Renowned for its popular lecterns, AmpliVox has introduced two models—Contemporary Lectern and Visionary Lectern II—with built-in digital displays, giving users instant plug and play visual meeting support.
The display features an ambient light sensor, 30 programming schedules, HDMI and VGA, along with USB and SD card slots. “These lecterns give presenters a powerful new level of visual support, without always needing an additional AV screen and projector,” said AmpliVox CEO Don Roth. Ensuring that the company is ready to help customers with end-user requests for equipment designed for the “new normal”, AmpliVox has created a Home Office School Desk. The sturdy desk is made specifically for learn-at-home or work-at-home activities, with features that emphasize mobility, durability and compact size for limited-space environments. In addition, AmpliVox has introduced acrylic safety shields for lecterns, podiums, tables, and other work surfaces. They can be used in conference and meeting rooms, hospitality settings, schools, entry and check-in areas, point-of-sale locations and more. The see-through items are made with rugged ¼” acrylic and AmpliVox can also place a logo on any safety shield.
Industry News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 24
Industry News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 28 Kimball acquires Poppin
Kimball International is to acquire office furniture and office products supplier Poppin in a deal that could be worth $180 million. The deal is scheduled to close before the end of the year, subject to customary conditions. Following that, Poppin will operate as a separate business unit within Kimball and continue to be led by co-founder Randy Nicolau and his current leadership team. Kimball will pay an initial $110 million for the New York-based start-up, with up to $70 million in further contingency payments to be made over the next three years or so, depending on its financial performance. Kimball is funding the transaction via a combination of cash on hand and its credit facility, which has been increased to a borrowing capacity of $125 million. Poppin was founded in 2009 as a design-led disruptor in the stationery category, branching out into office furniture a few years later. It has combined its digitally native platform with a 17-person sales force and a network of five showrooms, primarily serving small-to-medium corporations and the direct-to-consumer market.
Victor joins health and safety supplies market
In memoriam: Ron Sobel
Victor Technology has entered its newest product category with the release of the T9000 Non-Contact Infrared Forehead and Wrist Thermometer. The T9000 provides a safe and effective way to measure temperatures quickly and easily, for users of all ages and in any setting. The T9000 offers a touchless and precise sensor. Users simply point and press the easy-to-use trigger to receive accurate data immediately. Readings can be obtained from the forehead or wrist from 2-3 inches away, avoiding any direct contact with skin and possible cross-infection. Once readings are taken, one of the three colors will appear on the backlit display to show users which temperature range they are in: green, yellow or red, with the latter indicator accompanied by a sound alert. The non-contact infrared thermometer can measure objects, rooms and liquids and in addition to the standard functions, has advanced memory and mode features. For convenience, the unit automatically turns on to human and Fahrenheit modes, with easy toggling between Fahrenheit and Celsius or human and object. The T9000 also has memory storage enabling the operator to view up to 32 previous readings. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
“Poppin brings us new products and new categories that we can offer to our existing channels; immediately expands our direct channel business; establishes a real presence for us in the fast-growing corporate-sponsored and direct-to-consumer work-from-home categories; and provides digital capabilities that can be scaled across our portfolio brands,” said Kimball CEO Kristie Juster.
INDEPENDENT DEALER was saddened to learn of the passing of former US office products distributor Ron Sobel. Ron passed away on October 5, at the age of 80. He was a full-line wholesaler in the Los Angeles area, running Glen Robert Distributors with his wife Jeri (pictured with Ron) for many years. He also manufactured and sold paper tags and labels via a company called West Coast Tag and Label, and later started Standard Office Supply. Ron’s son Glen, after whom he named his distribution company, found fame in the music world as the drummer with Alice Cooper’s band.
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Is Your Business Ready For A Post COVID Washington?
By: Paul A. Miller
The elections are finally over and although we are still in the recount phase, it looks like Joe Biden will become the 46th President on January 20, 2021. Change in Administrations will bring opportunities for your business but will also force us to pay greater attention (and play defense) to any effort to overturn business friendly policies implemented by the Trump Administration. The first battle when the new Congress convenes in January will be the next stimulus package. With very few legislative days left this year and Congress still with a laundry list of must pass legislation, including a budget resolution that gets us into 2021 without shutting the government down (which is unlikely), passing a stimulus package—which has become controversial—is unlikely. None of this delay has meant IOPFDA has sat, waited, and watched as Congress did nothing leading up to the election. It meant we worked harder pushing for issues like: Business Liability Protections: We live in a very different business environment today and will for the next several years. With medical professionals still unsure on long-term health effects of COVID-19, it means that safety in the workplace will become an even bigger issue for both employers and employees. If the economy is going to get back on track, employers need employees in the office. What employers do not need are overly burdensome regulations and potential lawsuits that force them to close their doors. This is why IOPFDA has been working with leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to ensure that one nonnegotiable in the next stimulus package or end of the year omnibus must be business liability protections. This issue has come up again this week and both Senators have stressed that any potential stimulus deal must include these protections for employers. IOPFDA expects that when the next stimulus is passed, it will contain strong liability NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
NOPA News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 32 protections that will prevent employees from suing you if they should contract the virus. If an employer does what is reasonable to keep their work environment safe, they would be shielded from potential lawsuits. These protections would be like those passed after 9/11. Paycheck Protection Program Loans: IOPFDA has worked very hard to educate Congress on the importance of these loans and how critical a second round is to our industry. There is roughly $130 billion left in the PPP fund, which means there will be an opportunity for small businesses to get a second round of funding in the next stimulus. We are working with key members of Congress to lower the threshold of who would qualify. We expect that if you can show a 25-35% loss of business because of COVID-19, then you would be eligible for a second round of funding. Tax Consequences of PPP loans: Under current IRS guidelines, PPP loans would be required to count as income. That was never the intent of Congress, but because of a drafting error, this is now a problem businesses (and Congress) face. IOPFDA is working with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) on including language in the end of the year omnibus legislation or in next stimulus bill, that would correct this problem. Congress never intended on requiring businesses to count these loans as income and there is bi-partisan support for making the necessary tax law changes. Independent Contractor Changes: IOPFDA has been monitoring the Department of Labor’s proposed rule to changes to the current independent contractor issue. Proposed Rule relies on Two Core Factor’s: 1) Behavioral control: Nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
The worker’s control over the work. These factors help determine if a worker is economically dependent on someone else’s business or is in business for themselves. The proposed rule clarifies: • Requiring an individual to comply with contractual terms typical of a business relationship such as: • Compliance with legal requirements; • Having insurance; • Meeting deadlines; • Quality control standards; and • Meeting health and safety standards. 2) Profit or loss opportunity: This factor addresses whether a worker has an opportunity for profit and/or loss on either or both: Exercise of personal initiative, including: • Managerial skill or business acumen. • Management of investments in or capital expenditures on, for example, equipment, materials, etc. • This factor weighs towards being an employee to the extent the individual is unable to affect his/her earnings or is only able to do so by working more hours or more efficiently. Secondary Factors: • If the analysis of the core factors is not determinative or points in a different direction, the DoL would then look to three guideposts or secondary factors: • Amount of specialized training or skill that is required for the work that the potential employer does not provide; • Degree of permanence of the working relationship, focusing on the continuity and duration of the relationship and weighing towards IC status if the relationship is definite in duration or sporadic; and • The work performed is part of an integrated unit of production. INDEPENDENT DEALER
Small Business Jump-start America Act: One of the things keeping so many small businesses from moving from a survival mode to recovery mode is the lack of access to capital. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were a lifeline, but the reality is, the government cannot continue to provide forgivable loans to small businesses. IOPFDA has developed its own small business fix. Our program targets need and those businesses at the core of getting the economy back on track. Highlights of the Small Business Jump-start America Act include: • Provides $500 billion in total loans • Each company loan capped at $10 million • Businesses would need to be less than 1,500 employees with revenues under $40 million • Loans would be reserved for companies involved in: • Manufacturing • Critical ground, air, marine transportation companies, non-emergency medical transportation providers • Resellers • Healthcare • Financial services • Defense industrial base • Chemical/cleaning products • Hygiene products • Energy • Construction, architecture, engineering, project management, surveying, and mapping • Only businesses in operation the past seven years with proven track record of profit in last three years will be considered • No collateral required—loans would be backed by the Federal government. • Loan repayment would start after three years, and must be repaid in full within 7.5 years • Loan rate would be 2.75%. PAGE 33
NOPA News CONTINUED FROM PAGE 33 Unemployment Benefits â€“ One of the biggest challenges for recovery for small businesses has been the inability to get workers to come back to work. Because the last stimulus included an additional $600 per week, on top of the state benefit, a lot of drivers were making more to stay home than they were to get back to work. Unemployment benefits are a major issue for the Democrats, just as the liability protections are for Republicans. Today a group of Democratic Senators introduced legislation that would extend the $600 unemployment benefit for 24-weeks. Because the Senate is controlled by Republicans, it will be hard to see how that passes, but with unemployment spiking, there will be pressure to do something. IOPFDA has approached Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) about taking a
different approach. Instead of a $600 stay at home benefit, why not make it a $200-$300 per week back to work bonus. We are hoping the Senator will introduce legislation very soon that will adopt this approach. Anti-Trust: The impacts of big tech on the industry have been significant. Amazon for example not only controls the commercial market, but now has control of the government market as well. IOPFDA is working with key congressional committeeâ€™s on ways we can prevent big tech from controlling the re-seller platforms, but also gaining access to your critical data. IOPFDA continues to stress that Amazon should not be allowed to control the platform and be a reseller. This is a huge conflict of interest and creates a situation where
they can use small business data to put those very same small businesses out of business. In addition to these immediate needs, IOPFDA has a second tier of issues it continues to focus on and will pursue post-COVID. We have had a full plate of issues this year and we expect to be VERY busy again in 2021, both pushing our issues over the goal line and defending policies implemented during the Trump Administration that have helped your business. So, as your business prepares for a post-COVID Washington, IOPFDA is as well. We are aggressively fighting every day for you and the health of your business. Life in Washington has changed, but the need to have a voice for your industry and business have not. We need to be louder than ever in 2021.
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– AND COUNTING
Simply put, Deflecto is a company that is dedicated to inventing smart solutions for everyday problems. The Indianapolis-based vendor’s 60-year history is steeped in innovation and its product portfolio is wide and varied, ranging from bicycle reflectors, air distribution products and literature and sign holders to chair mats, office workspace accessories, point of purchase and branded displays, and personal safety items. As an essential business, Deflecto was in a good position when COVID-19 struck to contribute to keeping Americans safe and healthy during the pandemic. It has remained open throughout, with its teams across all corners of the globe working collectively to identify market needs and pivot manufacturing and sourcing to support its entire distribution network in a short period of time. Maggie Waples, Deflecto’s global vice president of product management and marketing, comments: “It turns out that extruding plastics have played a critical role in protecting our customers from this virus. Just think about that next time you’re at the grocery staring at the cashier behind a polycarbonate or acrylic shield. We make those items that keep you and the workers who serve you safe.” Deflecto’s general manager and vice president of consumer products, Ken Smith, was able to identify key distribution partners to help expedite entry into the market. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
Specifically relating to the PPE/safety categories, which obviously have been catapulted to the top of the agenda, demand for these products is divided between industrial, medical/healthcare and consumer settings. As a general rule, industrial PPE has been down, due to many manufacturing closures; while the medical and healthcare sector has seen a phenomenal uptick. Another huge growth surge has come from the consumer side: PPE and safety started from practically zero in this vertical, but have expanded exponentially over the past nine months or so.
Turning challenge into opportunity
Deflecto has certainly managed to use its considerable strengths to meet the needs of this crisis. The manufacturer launched over 100 new products in Q2/Q3 2020. Speed during this challenging period has been crucial, as Waples explains: “We were able to go from idea to design to costing to prototype in under three weeks. Not always ideal, but we were able to do it. For months, no one stopped. But urgent times call for urgent action. This kind of speed without the normal gates or guardrails can be risky business, but every member of the senior team understood the risks and chose to keep going anyway. We believe alignment at the top is absolutely essential and our CEO, Bob Flynn, was instrumental in leading the effort” (see box-out on “Five lessons on speed to market”).
Supply Side CONTINUED FROM PAGE 36 In terms of specific PPE, there has been particularly high demand for sneeze guards, which are used in a wide variety of contexts, including retail, grocery, drug chains, businesses, municipalities and schools. Waples elaborates: “Our product development has focused on understanding the situation and developing the sizes and configurations needed for each one that can be produced at scale and efficiently. The demand for these continues and the supply chain is new and without any major leaders, so the results are significant to the company. This product category was literally born out of COVID-19 and did not exist for us just a few months ago.” Signage, of course, is part of Deflecto’s core range; but here too, the company has expanded into social distancing signage such as floor markers, seat and water cooler signage and so on, to help businesses and schools easily communicate available seating and distance. Other ranges have also seen heightened demand, requiring adaptations to existing products and an influx of new SKUs. Many of these are being used right now, but will also play an important role as employers and employees envisage a safe return to the office; examples include reconfigured office spaces using barriers and safety protocols, and antimicrobial properties on equipment and in cleaning solutions. There will also continue to be an unprecedented focus on people’s wellbeing, wherever these employees, pupils or students are—in the service industry, in manufacturing and industrial settings, in the education sector or indeed in the office. The need for PPE and safety products is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Only vaccine availability will substantially reduce it. As for their complete disappearance post-COVID-19, only time will tell, says Waples: “The question is how secure consumers and employees will feel post-vaccine. If fears persist over future viruses or how long antibodies last, we may continue to see demand for PPE ongoing.” But the world will certainly be better prepared.
Five lessons on speed to market
Launching 100 new products in just a few months is no mean feat. Here are Maggie Waples’ tips on how to make it work—and stay sane while doing so: • Teamwork and humility: Check your ego at the door. Ideas came from everywhere and our collective job was to quickly assess them, prepare them for our channels and get the samples and marketing materials in the hands of sales. Our teams in California, Indiana, Ohio, Canada, Europe and China all jumped in with concepts and solutions. • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: Could we have iterated more? Yes. Could we have done more market research? Not easy when everyone is locked down, but maybe. Could we have reduced SKU count down to the best sellers? There’s no history. The run on sneeze guards, face shields and social distancing signage wasn’t a thing in early 2020. SKU proliferation can be an outcome of this kind of speed, but we figured out the top sellers quickly before making inventory investments. When the market has urgent needs, you don’t need to be perfect. Just make sure it works as promised, is safe and is delivered when you say it will be. • A sense of urgency: This has underlying cultural roots. If your company has been coasting along and people are used to a slow pace, it’s hard to turn that on suddenly. If the foundation is broken—IT systems, manufacturing processes—then you’ll break things at this speed because you can’t scale even if you have leaders with a sense of urgency. At Deflecto, we have the advantage of both a strong foundation across departments and a sense of urgency. • “Work the problem”: This is my favorite phrase borrowed from David Boreanaz’s character on SEAL Team and a well-known NASA approach to problem solving. There are going to be things that go wrong, difficult conversations and trade-offs. People will get frustrated when orders start flying and your imperfect process has to absorb the newly created speed. But almost any problem is solvable if you’ve got each other’s back (read: trust) and you have a common goal (serve the customer). Don’t spend time complaining about a problem. Name it and solve it. • No finger pointing or blaming: Don’t play the blame game and let others—often someone further down the organizational chart—take the fall. It’s a sign of insecurity and weakness. The concept of 100 percent responsibility applies here. Take the responsibility to find solutions to problems; no blaming or shaming is allowed. Leaders have to talk to one another when something goes wrong and neutrally discuss what in the process or resourcing is flawed in order to learn and resolve.
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WE MONITOR PAGE 39
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While the pandemic has hurt many dealers’ traditional office supplies sales, the channel has enjoyed some success with jan/san and PPE. We have also witnessed the birth of some new categories that have emerged in direct response to COVID-19—but which may be here to stay
Cover Story CONTINUED FROM PAGE 40 For years now—both in trade show seminars and, indeed, in the pages of this magazine—independent dealers have been advised of the need to diversify their product portfolios if they are to survive in the modern business environment. The argument goes that the competition presented by the Big Boxes and rampaging online retailers requires the IDC to place more irons in the proverbial fire in order to maintain sales volume and profitability. Many have heeded that advice, with great success—mixing furniture, breakroom, jan/san and other categories with the independents’ trademark characteristics of consummate customer service and willingness to go that extra mile. The last 10 months or so have not only underscored and accelerated this need for diversification (last issue, we looked at the importance of jan/ san during the pandemic), but also seen the introduction of a number of new categories that dealers in our channel would not even have considered selling when sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner a little over a year ago. Sneeze guards, seriously? There is little doubt that COVID-19 has wrought havoc on the business supplies industry as a whole, with traditional office products seeing a decline pretty much across the board and severe supply chain disruption for high-demand jan/san and PPE products; but the IDC has always proved resilient in the face of adversity and these new categories have provided something of a lifeline for many dealers. “At the beginning, you weren’t able to get the things that you would normally be able to sell,” says Andrew Ives, vice president at Office City Express in Delaware, Ohio. “You were just trying to find anything out there that you could get your hands on and sell; and to some extent, we’re still in that situation. We partnered with J. P. Cook, who were able to produce signs very quickly at a NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
very good price, and—especially at the beginning of the pandemic—we had loads of orders for them. “That really helped. By having some of these other items like signage available, we were still able to stay out in front of the customer. That was the main goal. Even though it wasn’t huge profit, it still gave my drivers a reason to go places. I didn’t have people sitting around doing nothing; and when we were able to get certain things like masks and wipes, we were still out in front of the customers to sell them those.” Other dealers found that these products helped them not only to retain customers, but also to make inroads into new business. One of the recurring pieces of advice that dealers offered on how to make the most of the current situation was the importance of both embracing these new categories and looking toward new verticals for expansion. “Shields, signage and space sanitization are in high demand in bars and restaurants,” says Kasie Morley, president of Jacobs Gardner Supply Company, headquartered in Bowie, Maryland. “We’ve added many new
customers in the restaurant industry since COVID-19. Obviously, they all require clean, hygienic spaces for their patrons. Their ability to remain open depends on them having these items in place.” While these new categories have helped some dealers replace income lost by non-selling and hard-to-find products, it doesn’t mean that they have always been easy to find themselves. To this end, there has been near-unanimous praise for the role played by both major wholesalers and the buying groups for their assistance in sourcing stock. Many independents, however, were forced turn to new suppliers. “Before the pandemic, we didn’t really sell any PPE products,” says Sharon Reissman of Maco Office Source in Northern New Jersey. “As soon as it hit, Ricky [Reissman, the owner of Maco] was fielding calls and very quick in seeing what was actually needed; but it was still very hard to get product through regular supply lines. The traditional manufacturers were just swamped with orders. “Fortunately, a number of local factories—one that we worked with in
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particular—shut down their operations and moved to plexiglass production. I think it would be fair to say at this point we have sold thousands of shields and sneeze guards, without any doubt, have been the biggest market for us.” J.D. Pedigo, president and CEO of Velocity Business Products in Houston, Texas, experienced a similar need and also had to look beyond the regular supply chain to meet it. “We sold around $750,000 worth of sneeze guards,” he says. “It was hot and heavy there for a little bit. We found a manufacturer in Mexico that was very good at getting the product out quickly for large quantities; and then another two, more local to us in Houston, that were able to produce the more complicated elements such as certain clamp mounts, cut-outs and more complex bending.” Other dealers anticipated the likely demand for products such as sneeze guards and went one step further: designing, manufacturing and marketing their own products. “During the summer months, a lot of us were thinking ‘How are kids going to go back to school? How are universities going to go back?’” recalls Andy Todd, vice president of Snap NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
Office Supplies in Richmond, Virginia. “We had some failed attempts from school districts to go back because children ended up testing positive for COVID-19 and so they shut those schools down for a period of time. “We started thinking, ‘What could we do that would protect children more than a mask or disinfectant wipe?’ So we developed and created a foldable, transportable, lightweight device that is a barrier and that uses a polycarbonate product, which is unbreakable. We call it the Pop-Up and we’re in the process of trying to get a patent, because there’s a lot of three-panel devices that people just put on a desk; but if the desk is not sanitized correctly, there’s a risk of contracting COVID-19. Ours offers a fourth level of protection, as there’s a base that sits on the desk, protecting against the desktop. We’ve already taken several orders and we’re beginning to market it like crazy to superintendents across the country.” It is, without doubt, the dealers who were able to find alternative sources to supplement the disrupted supply chain that benefited from the early demand for new COVID-19 categories. That said, there is still a market for these products and many established INDEPENDENT DEALER
vendors have also responded quickly to customers’ needs. “At the beginning, I was sourcing barriers from a company I’d seen online that was one of the first to offer them,” says Wendy Pike, president of Twist Office Products in Wood Dale, Illinois. “Then it seemed like almost every week there was new product and prices have come down. Companies like HON, Global and Deflecto are all there. Special-T has some wonderful barriers. We were very successful with their barriers and they had good marketing to go with it; that was helpful too.” With regard to marketing, most of the dealers we spoke to agreed that in the early period of the pandemic, little more was required than letting customers know what products were available and when—with regular customers reaching out for items that were in high demand. “COVID-19-related products have been the highest-demand category this year,” says Morley. “As I’m sure all dealers have seen, requests for those products changed as the months of the pandemic dragged on. In March, it began with a need for hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and touchless thermometers. From May to July, it gradually changed to items like social distancing signage, acrylic barriers, shields and wall partitions. Currently, air purifiers and whole room sanitizers are on the rise.” As new products entered the market, it became necessary to educate customers on the variety of products that were now available. “We are very proactive with our marketing, letting customers know what we have in stock that they might need,” continues Pike. “Customers may not know we carry some items, but our sales team get in touch to tell them what we have. A good example of this would be the Victory electrostatic sprayers that we have had a lot of success with.” This shift in demand has led not PAGE 42
Cover Story CONTINUED FROM PAGE 42 only to a focus on marketing, but also to a need to ensure that buyers and sales teams are kept up to date with the latest products coming to market. This is particularly true as the level of technology increases in items such as the aforementioned electrostatic sprayers and air purifiers. Once again, the wholesalers and the buying groups have done a fine job in helping dealers stay informed, running regular webinars and training sessions. “For our company, disinfectants, sprayers, foggers and air cleaners have been in high demand,” agrees Bret Wrigley, owner of Wrigley’s Business Products and Services in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. “It’s important to invest time in finding the PPE suppliers that are the best fit for your company and in getting
your staff better educated in the product categories that are in some way connected to PPE and the future after-effects of the pandemic. Our company has had a crash course in cleaning and breakroom supplies. We are better versed in that product line and as a result, I see more sales from that category. I believe many of the PPE items will become long-term key supplies.” As hopes grow that 2021 will see a gradual return to the office, the question of exactly how that office will look is very much open to question. As we’ve heard, it’s likely that many of the new categories mentioned will feature to some degree; but there’s also every chance that other new products will come to the fore. “One of our largest verticals is
the legal profession,” says Charlie Kennedy, co-owner of Kennedy Office Supply in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I was talking with an attorney friend of mine. His firm has 200 employees, with 100 of them currently in the office. He has suggested most of them will be in the office again in January. We’ve been thinking about how things will be different; if you just take the breakroom, for instance, there’s a lot of companies that used to have fruit and other food out on display—that’s unlikely to continue. Then there’s the cutlery—one possible change is going to be that each spoon is wrapped or some companies will be using single distribution dispensers. There will be little changes to the way things are done and there will be products to sell as a result.”
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By Frank Hoard and Dave Aquino
Recently, on a call with a dealer, Frank Hoard, Director, Facility Supply Channel, at Independent Suppliers Group, was asked: “What products are going to have the most focus in 2021?” His answer was simple… “Gloves, gloves and gloves.” As you read this article, we would like you to keep a few things in mind: • Studies show that the disposable medical glove market will exhibit a 10.6% compound annual growth rate and reach $14.03 billion by 2027. • Nitrile disposable gloves are at their highest demand ever and this article is focused on this particular segment of the glove market. • The purpose of the article is simple: to educate independent dealers and their sales teams by helping “reset” market expectations. To some, this will be a wake-up call; but the rewards that can be achieved by dealers willing to commit to a supplier program may be substantial. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
So, what will make 2021 a different year for gloves? Here are some factors to be aware of…
Supply chain hurdles
Raw materials: While demand for nitrile disposable gloves is at astronomical levels, the raw materials to make nitrile are finite. The 2021 raw material market is set for the year—there really isn’t any more that can be produced, and large manufacturers and glove suppliers are scrambling to get their share of those raw materials. The supply chain is driven by the petrochemical industry and, despite investment being made to increase capacity, it will be 18 to 36 months before there is a meaningful change. As a result, nitrite rubber is expected to double in cost on the spot market during 2021. Shipping: Freight and shipping costs are also at an all-time high, including for international and container shipping. Challenges with reduced exports and fundamental changes in shipping patterns have led to a scarcity of empty containers within Asia, further complicating normal flow. INDEPENDENT DEALER
Political conditions: You may be aware that the majority of nitrile gloves are not made in China, but in countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Most recently, Vietnam has become a player in disposable glove manufacturing and packaging. The cost of manufacturing these items hasn’t gone up, but the flow of gloves is now constantly disrupted by political conditions. Countries are tightly controlling imports and exports of critical medical materials; and in specific cases military and government agencies are taking control of decision making. Allocation: If you haven’t heard this term yet, you are most certainly living it. Allocation is what has been happening to you, no matter your distribution size. Because demand outweighs supply, you are allotted a certain amount of supply from your legacy vendors, typically based on your previous history. Other factors that could make a difference include: a dealership’s overall business with a current supplier; the relationship with a suppliers’ salespeople; and a dealership’s flexibility within that relationship when things don’t go as planned. (Although PAGE 44
Frank Hoard & Dave Aquino CONTINUED FROM PAGE 44 there are many things that could go into the “allocation equation” for a supplier, sometimes it’s thrown out the window if someone is pleasant to deal with and pay the bills on time.) Quality assurance: This may be the most overlooked hurdle, but quality control is in the eye of the buyer. Some importers of gloves simply take what the manufacturer or broker tells them as truth. It has been proven time and time again this is a naïve placement of trust. Quality assurance doesn’t stop at the glove itself; it goes to other aspects too, such as glove count in box and case, watertight containers and delivery expectations. Having suppliers that demand quality control “in-country” avoids ugly surprises upon receipt. Think “recycled” gloves, rejected product being resold, transit damage and empty cases. Demand: Everyone is looking for nitrile gloves, both industrial and exam grade. These two separate classes of glove are similar in their physical attributes; however, exam grade gloves are put through a “test” to ensure they actually meet the standards set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other agencies. Testing is typically done in batches, which means a small percentage of gloves is tested. When those gloves gain approval, the entire batch of gloves is considered to be exam grade.
These supply chain factors leave independent dealers in a unique position and with a question each should ask themselves: “With all these supply chain issues, why would I ever want to sell disposable gloves?” The answer is that within disruption lies opportunity. Independent dealers have an opportunity to remake the glove market within their territory and move the market away from wholesale and large impersonal importers to a more focused supply chain channel—a market made of suppliers who want to work with independent dealers, not just now, but long into the future. However, the supply chain is only half the battle. Dealers must also learn to sell the product in a different way; and to own a market, you must challenge the thinking of the end users who buy disposable gloves. The following will help dealers and their salespeople educate themselves and customers at large about the ongoing market conditions.
Uneducated sales teams: Gloves are considered by many to be a commodity item. There are nuances to the product but, because they are disposable, many forgo the opportunity to win business through unwillingness to learn about the product. Most sales for the IDC have come about through a customer reaching out and
a salesperson simply trying to fill the order. There is no real challenge to this concept, but most salespeople have learned about market conditions by failing time and time again. Salespeople must be educated on the glove market or will be doomed to repeat history over and over again—or, worse, will miss out on sales and commissions. Uneducated buyers: Ironically, this could be the biggest hurdle facing the market today. Many buyers’ concept of the market is: “I need gloves, I buy gloves.” The standards that buyers use for pricing and availability date from pre-pandemic market conditions. Let me be clear: glove prices will not be going down for the foreseeable future. Buyers must understand that. Global forecasts continue to increase each month and demand from India and China is siphoning off the limited supply that would normally ship to the U.S. Fear of the unknown: This leads me to the point at which most everyone within the glove market is operating currently: fear. Let’s just admit it: as suppliers, we are fearful of not getting supply, paying too much for that supply or, even worse, getting rocks (yes, stones) in cartons that are marked as gloves. (We’ll call that last example “quality control.”) Part of belonging to a buying group such as Independent Suppliers Group is the help you get to operate from an educated standpoint and a position of strength. Many independent dealers are worried that gloves will end up like face masks, where in May 2020, demand dropped off the table in a matter of weeks. We assure you that won’t happen to the disposable glove market for at least six months; but this is where your position within a buying cooperative helps you, allowing you to combine your buying power to operate and buy products from a position of strength. Knowledge is power and fear disappears when you are educated. Cash and credit: If you are selling gloves and people are buying from PAGE 45
Frank Hoard & Dave Aquino CONTINUED FROM PAGE 45 the product and should be applied to the supplier itself. It’s not hard to find someone offering low-priced disposable glove deals; but numerous dealers have put millions of dollars into escrow, only to never receive a shipment. Typically, the gloves are sold out from underneath them to a higher bidder by either the manufacturer or the country of origin.
fear, something funny starts to happen. The money flow can start to tighten from one deal to the next. There are some things you can do to help with this, but you must understand that you can’t keep selling gloves on 30-day terms. We’re in a pandemic with a highly disrupted supply chain for disposable gloves; you must reset expectations with your customers around how the product is paid for. Dealers must understand that other distributors have already done this with their customers. Some independent dealers are acting more like lending banks than supply vendors. The more an independent dealer’s money is tied up with financing a customer’s already delivered orders, the less money they have to help other customers secure products they desperately need. Here are some points to bear in mind when talking to buyers: • Price: Nitrile gloves are not going back to below $5 a box cost to you anytime soon. When you factor in the various supply hurdles, it is actually amazing that prices are only three to four times higher than pre-pandemic market conditions. Again, raw materials are the number one factor here. Dealers must be willing to explain to buyers the market conditions that are coming. The price of a disposable glove is directly tied to the availability of those petrochemical items. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
Additionally, the price of gloves will go up if a pre-buy commitment can’t be achieved. Glove importers will always supply a better price to those willing to put some skin in the game. • Delivery: If a buyer needs a continual supply of gloves, the only way to ensure that is by making longer-term commitments than they may be used to outside of their typical supply chain. Because the raw material market is finite, the availability of random containers of gloves via a “gray” market supplier is going to shrink. The commitment by the buyer for the consistent supply of gloves shouldn’t be just a few weeks, but rotating over a series of months. A good supplier won’t ask you for a year-long commitment; but when suppliers have commitments they can bank on, many of the conditions and uncertainty start to even out and become more predictable. • Quality: The controls around quality have always been reflected in the price. In the past, the threat of bad product or no product wasn’t there because the demand for and the value of the product were not what you see today. It’s easy to find stories of product shortages by box, carton or container. Independent dealers have always lived by the mantra that they are better value; now they must find suppliers who live by that old adage of “You get what you pay for!” That adage of value goes beyond INDEPENDENT DEALER
Independent dealers must reconsider their expectations around the price, delivery and quality of gloves. They may need to reevaluate their expectations of the current glove market and understand that they may need to adjust their strategy for the market conditions coming in 2021.
Selling gloves in 2021
There are nuances to every vendor/ distributor relationship, but here are blueprints for the independent dealer on how to sell gloves in this high demand/low supply market. Educate merchandisers and sales teams • Understand the differences in gloves and FDA regulations. • If you need help, reach out to your buying group or a supplier; they’re here to help. • Understand that when buying gloves, terms, quality assurance, quickness of delivery and overall reduced risk factors with trusted suppliers all factor into the price of the product. The price on gloves in this market is directly tied to availability and reduced risk of obtaining bad product. This is where I’ll share a comment I heard recently: “I’m getting gloves for $2-$3 less.” Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the product required 100 percent upfront payment, and the product would arrive in eight to 10 weeks. Which begs the question: “How much money is tied up with that supplier, causing a distributor to miss out on additional glove sales?” PAGE 46
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Frank Hoard & Dave Aquino CONTINUED FROM PAGE 46 Educate customers
• Do your customers understand the market? Do they know the added pressure that will be placed upon the market? This is your chance to be the expert; with knowledge comes leverage in the sales cycle. • Do they know their demand? Are they buying from a place of fear? Does the end user buy whatever they can whenever they can? Help them to understand that you could help them develop a more consistent product flow for their level of demand. Certainty is more consistent when you present a programmatic sale. • Explain to them that we haven’t seen the worst of this glove market yet. The economy is only partially open and if the Defense Production Act is invoked by the new administration, this will shift supply inbound to healthcare, further increasing scarcity. Ask them for their business, not just for this order; try to sell them on regular orders in realistic timelines. • Through buying groups, dealers can gain access to vendors with regular access to disposable glove supply. Have customers rethink their glove buying process today. Make customers understand why buying in container quantities is often based on fear of the unknown. Help your customers be pennywise, not pound foolish.
Keep the money moving
• Cash and credit markets are also finite and shrinking. Vendors will want to work with those that can pay their bills. Understand that as business rolls in, you may need to collect from your customers quicker than normal with this one product category. Dealers should consider how they collect payment from a customer by accepting cash on delivery, prepaid orders, applying for additional credit, an upfront payment, or even convincing end users to place smaller more frequent orders. • Should you finance a deal, price it appropriately. There are no hard and fast rules, but if a customer wants to buy gloves in smaller quantities like it’s 2019, then they must know that their costs will drastically increase.
Plan for the future
• Investigate a number of glove suppliers. Vet them all; you should never rely on just one source. • Forecast your needs. The number of gloves a dealer sold in 2020 is a good starting point for a 2021 forecast. With a little focus, a dealer could easily double, triple or even quadruple that number. For those independent dealers who have been sitting on the sidelines with respect to the disposable glove market, dealers should actively look to get into it to offset year-over-year losses.
• In time, when many things will eventually get back to normal, the glove market demand will stay high, even when some sense of normality has started to return to professional and social life. • Demand is fundamentally being changed for the long term and the disposable glove supply will continue to be limited without the risk of substitution as seen in other PPE products.
The glove market will have ongoing disruption until at least May 2021, but more than likely through the entire calendar year. Few, if any, pandemic products will see the continued growth that disposable gloves will have. The demand will continue while positive COVID-19 cases grow globally. Nitrile glove raw materials are unable to meet the manufacturing demand for 2021, adding pressure to the overall disposable glove market. Independent dealers have to recognize that the disposable glove market will most likely be forever changed. They can help reshape the supply chain by working with newer suppliers that are not already invested in the wholesale or Big Box store distributors. Should an independent distributor find a quality source that can deliver gloves, ensure quality and provide value, then they should work with that source to get gloves to a newly educated end user. If an independent dealer can do this, they’ll see positive revenues and margins in 2021.
Frank Hoard is the Director of the Facility Supply Channel at Independent Suppliers Group and Dave Aquino is the co-founder of PPE manufacturer and distributor Certain Supply. For more information contact Frank at hoard@isg. coop or Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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REQUEST ESTIMATE PAGE 49
CoverUpdate SPR Story CONTINUED FROM PAGE 32
SPR FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER The beginning of 2020 showcased much promise for SPR as we were excited for the opportunities ahead; however, all of that changed in March. As COVID changed our daily lives, the impact on our business and customers was even more dramatic. It was apparent that our customers needed new marketing to drive COVID PPE sales faster and with more detail related on how to use the products effectively. SPR’s merchandising team sourced hundreds of new PPE items and the marketing team shifted to an active marketing plan that ensured our customers had the tools necessary to win. Speed to market was critical and Paul Gatens, VP of Marketing knew his team was up to the challenge. “The new SPR is about speed and we needed to move from a department driven by a calendar to basically Marketing on Demand,” Gatens said. “We’ve never produces so many pieces so quickly!” As businesses prepare to reopen, the landscape has changed, and resellers continue to adapt their marketing to be relevant in the new “normal.” Much of today’s office work is being done NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
remotely across the country, which has created a shift in demand for products. Fortunately, the solutions and products SPR offers cover a broad and diverse range of businesses. Many of our resellers have rerouted deliveries to customers’ homes. SPR also continues to empower resellers to win in end-user verticals that they might not typically pursue. Early in the COVID-19 response, SPR marketing began executing end-user focused vertical flyers with a curated assortment meant for each specific industry (healthcare, government, education, industrial and hospitality). Through SPR’s MarketingOnDemandTM portal, links to these vertical flyers are emailed to our resellers weekly and the flyers are available for download. While each end user has specific needs, SPR’s goal is to ensure customers have the tools needed to win business and build sales. Today over 80 percent of dealers’ business is done online so SPR digital offering needed to be enhanced to meet these needs. SPR offers a host of digital tools focused on customers’ e-commerce and social media INDEPENDENT DEALER
platforms, as well as supporting publications to win and grow their businesses. SearchProTM enhanced e-content and search delivers an exceptional online experience, offering a versatile online catalog and engaging marketing content directly from the manufacturer. Resellers choose which products and SearchProTM elements to use to create their e-tailing marketplace. With its rich content—which includes variations in colors, sizes, assembly instructions, user manuals and safety data sheets— customers have all the information they need to know about a product before making their purchase. 360º views and zoom functionality demonstrate how products work and enhance the shopping experience by showcasing products’ unique features. Other elements of SeachProTM include product reviews, cross-selling/ up-selling add-ons and also-boughts, which humanize the buying experience and support the customer’s buying decisions. Product reviews reveal real consumer reactions, so shoppers get authentic evaluations of the products PAGE 50
SPR Update CONTINUED FROM PAGE 50 and feel comfortable adding them to their carts. Providing curated cross-sell and up-sell items improves the customer experience and drives add-on sales. Early this year, as marketplace demands changed with the onset of COVID-19, SPR began developing marketing tools that resellers could use to educate and inform customers about how to transition to the home office. From the beginning, we helped build campaigns for our reseller partners with guidelines, web banners, emails and social media messages that resellers could send directly to their customers. This momentum has continued with SPR’s CampaignAdvantageOneTM personalized email program and the weekly release of category targeted flyers offering resellers multiple vehicles to reach their customers. Our “Flash Sales” have also picked up steam, helping resellers compete with the Big Box players. CampaignAdvantageOneTM is a program exclusive to SPR resellers that allows them to leverage their website analytics to provide personalized and targeted messages to speak directly to their customers’ needs and boost sales. The program encourages a high level of interaction and engagement with the customer through consistent, relevant and meaningful campaigns. It starts with the reseller’s website and the robust analytics that capture end users’ browsing and purchasing history. That data helps build relevant, personalized marketing emails that accurately deliver information about the products
customers are interested in purchasing. The emails align with items promoted in SPR’s monthly promotions and include web banners and automated social media to integrate a reseller’s print and digital marketing strategy. Print is still an integral part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. With more than 27,000 SKUs, the Full Line Catalog is a comprehensive reference tool that positions the reseller as the go-to resource for everything used in today’s business environment. When used along with our SearchProTM digital content, resellers have a solid multimedia foundation to expand their business. Our Go-to-Market catalogs and flyers focus on a selection of items that give resellers a means of prospecting for business or supporting their contract pricing strategy with existing customers. These catalogs offer a streamlined selection of high-demand products from preferred manufacturers and cost-saving proprietary brand products that customers need to keep their business expenses in check. SPR continues to help resellers establish themselves as leaders in JanSan, breakroom and safety products by offering catalogs and online tools that position them as a critical resource in these highly relevant categories. The JanSan and Genuine Joe® Catalogs reinforce that position and offer Genuine Joe® as a cost-effective brand in the JanSan space. The Furniture catalog features the entire assortment of furniture found in the Full-Line Catalog, plus thousands
of additional items available through the FurnitureAdvantage™ program. The FurnitureAdvantage™ program gives resellers more opportunities to enhance their sales by offering thousands of additional quick-ship furniture and furniture accessory items to their customers. Orders from multiple manufacturers are consolidated and shipped together, making the order and delivery process more efficient than ever. Plus, resellers get factory-direct pricing on FurnitureAdvantage™ products, enabling them to be very cost-competitive. SPR’s exclusive furniture brand Lorell® is available to any of its resellers. The Lorell® Catalog gives resellers a publication that introduces customers to this value brand of furniture and office accessories. The Lorell® line of furniture offers deep discounts to satisfy resellers who need to be priced aggressively and still enjoy solid margins. In a world where customers want to choose their fabric and finish without paying a lot, Lorell® can fill that need through its quick ship offering. Education supplies remain an essential part of the office products business and SPR supports it with a catalog that explicitly targets this vertical market. The School Supply Catalog features essentials that teachers and office administrators need and includes a large selection of school-specific products not featured in the Full Line Catalog. Use of this catalog positions the reseller as a single-source solution for school supplies and educational products.
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While printed catalogs are a valuable tool for resellers to provide their customers, SPR provides digital versions for customers that want ready access on their mobile device or desktop. Our Evolve digital publications allow customers to enjoy the shopping experience associated with traditional print publications and include additional features such as links to manufacturer special offers, videos and rebate forms. Resellers have the opportunity to integrate their Evolve digital publication with their website, allowing customers to place their orders directly into the shopping cart. SPR provides several additional tools exclusive to resellers who participate in the Advantage program: • The Business Development Toolkit provides resellers with a library of advertising and sales assets that support their efforts to win business and keep customers engaged and coming back. Customizable letters, email templates, PowerPoint presentations, web images, sell sheets and so much more allow resellers to reach their market with professional, effective messaging. • Create-A-Flyer2 (CAF2) is a powerful custom promotional flyer builder that is great for prospecting or driving sales with existing customers. Resellers can choose a theme from the library of banners, select products, set sales prices and then output to PDF, PPTX or NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
HTML formats. CAF2 includes all SPR inventoried items and features exceptional search functionality and custom upload capability. Resellers can choose from themed categories or upload their own to reinforce their brand image. Manufacturer special offer coupons are added quarterly. • Margin management is key to business success and SPR offers a program that supports resellers’ marketing efforts beyond the digital and print publications. MyAnalyst™ is a world-class suite of business analytic tools that helps resellers compete in today’s marketplace. This program utilizes market intelligence to help resellers see what their customers are buying, and which products and categories influence their profitability, and provide information that allows them to make educated decisions on how to increase business and profitability. This program couples the most powerful B2B pricing software with the most comprehensive business intelligence to deliver an unparalleled business analytics tool. This software aggregates more than 4.7 billion actual sales transactions annually from independent resellers to commercial businesses. These price points are used to create 13 consumer pricing matrices INDEPENDENT DEALER
designed to support resellers’ pricing strategies and enable them to find the optimum balance of competitive and profitable pricing. BidPro™ is part of this suite and simplifies the bid process by cross-referencing competitive numbers for bids and providing higher margin substitutes. Together these two analytic tools provide a suite of powerful reports and a professional Customer Business Review tool. SPR is committed to ensuring that resellers have the necessary tools and products to win and keep business. Our marketing program is just one part of that commitment.
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Winner’s Circle Essendant Update CONTINUED FROM PAGE 4
ESSENDANT MARKETING PROGRAM UPDATE
The big story in marketing for 2020 is the big story everywhere else: the pandemic. The pandemic has loomed large in the marketing decisions we have made at Essendant as we sought ways to best support dealers in 2020 and plan for 2021. As the pandemic hit, there was a need for an immediate response. Our response included the development of marketing collateral to address the emerging work-from-home landscape. This included marketing campaigns with tailored assortments to outfit new work-from-home arrangements, as well as tools to raise awareness of dealer capabilities centered on home delivery and curbside pickup. As the pandemic progressed and businesses began to explore the possibility of returning to the office, we established a campaign called “resource for reopening.” This campaign put the dealer at the center of the story, positioning them as the NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
resource with the knowledge, expertise and product solutions to support customers as they began transitioning back to work. This campaign was complemented by hundreds of new items sourced by Essendant’s merchandising team to address the new market opportunities COVID-19 introduced.
Sales processes evolve
The pandemic also presented the opportunity to consider more long-term implications. A study by McKinsey showed that 96 percent of businesses shifted their go-to-market model as a result of COVID-19. One group particularly impacted was sales teams. That same study showed that, compared to 2019, the number of face-to-face meetings decreased from around 60 percent to less than 20 percent. This is a significant change, especially for the IDC. which thrives and differentiates itself on INDEPENDENT DEALER
relationship selling. To support dealers here, we focused on opportunities to address the sales approach and process, as well as the tools available for sales teams to succeed in a remote environment. For process, we partnered with Creative Training Solutions to offer three webinars geared toward dealer sales teams. These well-attended and positively reviewed webinars provided practical guidance to assist sales teams in nurturing leads, building relationships and recreating the human element through virtual selling. To build on the success of these webinars, we expanded the series with Creative Training Solutions to add two more sales training webinars for dealers. For sales tools, we had to reconsider our offerings within print. Catalogs have historically been one of the primary tools a salesperson would leverage for customer visits. With
Essendant Update CONTINUED FROM PAGE 54 limited opportunities for those visits, the printed catalog became increasingly irrelevant. To address this, we introduced a digital offering of the catalog called EasyFlip. The EasyFlip version provides the same opportunity for a salesperson to reach out to a customer and present their product offering. Since it is digital, it also provides more user-friendly features like search, enhanced product content, customization opportunities and the ability to keep current by making updates throughout the year. Another new sales piece we will have available in 2021 is the Dealer Capabilities flyer. This eight-page flyer will reinforce the key points within a dealer’s value proposition. This will be a critical story every dealer will need to tell. As many businesses moved to work from home, they decentralized supplies ordering and, in many instances, empowered their workers to manage their own office supply decisions. Often, individuals chose alternative suppliers outside of the dealer their company works with. As businesses begin returning to the office, dealers will need to focus on customer retention. To do so, they will need to reinforce their value to their customers, to bring back the volume they lost during the pandemic. The Dealer Capabilities flyer will support this discussion. In
a concise and compelling way, it will highlight the differentiated value dealers bring to the customers they support. This resource will not only help with customer retention, but will also be invaluable for customer acquisition.
Marketing responds to e-commerce growth
The pandemic will have a lasting impact on marketing, specifically digital marketing and e-commerce. In Q2 2020, e-commerce’s share of retail sales increased in just a few months at a rate that previously took 10 years. E-commerce will continue to grow as new adopters who discovered the convenience of online shopping will find it hard to go back to their old ways of shopping. As a result, these gains will be sustained and form a new baseline for e-commerce to continue its growth. Getting into e-commerce is not an overnight proposition. Our investment and innovation within digital marketing and e-commerce over the past few years have established an essential foundation of the necessary tools to support dealer success within e-commerce. The exponential growth of e-commerce earlier this year reinforced those investments and encouraged us to continue to put more resources there. A key way in which we are
moving forward in developing our innovation pipeline is by adopting the e-commerce strategic mindset. This is centered on the e-commerce revenue equation of Traffic x Conversion Rate x Average Order Value. These three components are the key levers that drive revenue in e-commerce. Managing the mix around them and optimizing each provide the building blocks for growth.
Traffic refers to the number of customers visiting a dealer’s website and the activities that get them there. Many dealers haven’t adopted newer practices in acquiring customers and driving prospects to their sites. Through our analysis using tools like SEMrush, we found that when the pandemic began earlier this year, dealers that had implemented strategies like search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) were able to significantly increase the number of new users visiting their sites; whereas dealers not using these strategies experienced significant decreases in site visits. These strategies need not be used exclusively, but they can be complementary to the traditional methods of customer acquisition currently used by many dealers. To address this, we hosted
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Essendant Update CONTINUED FROM PAGE 55 two educational webinars: one that highlighted the opportunities of using email as an acquisition tool and another that spoke to the basics of SEM. Recognizing the complexity and importance of these topics, we are also bringing on-board SEO and SEM experts to support dealers interested in expanding their marketing mix to include these capabilities. Our experts will support dealers down the path of SEO and SEM in three ways: • Webinars: Virtual educational offerings offered through the year; • Office hours: One-to-one engagements to assist with specific questions; and • One-to-one consultation: One-to-one engagements to support SEO/SEM projects. Across these three engagement opportunities, our experts will educate dealers on an essential skill set that can help progress their business forward within an environment that continues to move online.
In considering conversion rate, we have new innovations within our best-in-class product content and Smart Search. Content and search play outsized roles in driving conversions. An effective search engine makes it easier to find what is of interest to the user; while
high-quality content provides the necessary information to inform and convert. Within Smart Search, we are introducing new features that enhance the user experience. One feature that is commonly used within the browsing experience is filtering. We have enhanced Smart Search to add multi-select filtering to allow for the selection of multiple values. Users can now refine their search further without being limited by choosing only one value. Optimizing Smart Search is an ongoing activity. We regularly review search queries to identify new ways to improve search results. One key insight we’ve found is that end users don’t search exclusively for products on dealer sites. They also are searching for answers to questions on their accounts, orders, product solutions and recommendations. Our new redirect feature within Smart Search will allow dealers to present more meaningful content based on those searches. For example, dealers that have loyalty programs may receive searches like, “How do I redeem my loyalty points?” This search can be
directed to a landing page for the dealer’s loyalty program with answers to those questions. Redirecting end users to the content they are seeking creates a better user experience and happier customers. Another key update within Smart Search is inventory aware search. This feature can present end users with critical information in real time on the in-stock availability of an item.
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Essendant Update CONTINUED FROM PAGE 56 Given the recent challenges with many cleaning and PPE items, knowing the stock status of an item is a key piece of information end users need to make informed decisions. Linking this information to search provides other benefits to the search experience. Dealers can also choose how they want items to appear in results based on an item’s stock status. One approach could be to move items without stock lower in the results to allow in-stock items to appear first. Another approach could be to remove items without stock altogether from the results. The dealer can choose based on the experience they want to provide to their customers. This concept of choice and control leads to our largest update to Smart Search: the Digital Services Preferences Hub. This enhancement provides dealers and their marketing teams with an easy-to-use interface allowing them to manage the administration of many functions on their site. Presently, there are many capabilities the hub provides; but with the core functionality in place, more capabilities can be added in the future. These capabilities include: • customizing search rules; • managing non-Essendant items; and • establishing advertising rules by brand. Within our product content, we are
introducing enhancements to quality, timeliness and experience. New content technologies are providing new ways to inform end users and improve content quality. Our investment in interactive A+ content allows us to add more features to our product content to help end users arrive at informed product decisions. These features include 360° product views, hotspots with product links, compare tables, carousels, videos, buying guides, infographics and image zoom with mouseover. With the onset of the pandemic, new category and brand opportunities emerged that needed to be rapidly deployed for dealers to capture these opportunities. Even after the pandemic, the need for speed in providing timely content updates and new item introductions is essential. Our industry has evolved from offering an annual catalog to a current standard of monthly content updates. That’s not good enough. Content needs to be more current. We are moving to daily content syndication to achieve this and ensure our dealers have the most current content available. Our final innovation within our product content is the introduction of the product family display. It’s common for an item to have related items within its family, such as across size and
color. Presenting that information in an obvious way with interactive features is a sure way to make end users aware of a dealer’s complete offering and easily direct them to a different offering within the product family that more completely meets their need.
Average order value
Rounding out the e-commerce equation is average order value. We currently have an impactful collection of capabilities that help to increase order size. These include product recommendations delivered through Personalized Marketing Zones, Premium Relationships, Featured Products and Also Consider. Our newest addition to this group is Contextual Banners. This advertising feature delivers engaging content that appears in-line with search results. The banners that display are not random: they are relevant to what the user is searching for and help drive awareness to brands, products and promotions. They will be selected based on their relevance to the search results.
As we look forward, Essendant will be here to continue to support dealers and provide the marketing expertise and solutions to prepare them for what comes next.
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By Mike Gentile
OK, do I have your attention from the title? So, to many of my fellow ice hockey fans and not-so-big fans, please bear with me. Many of us have heard the famous quote from “The Great One”— Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” I have done some research and it appears this saying did not really originate from The Great One, but rather from Wayne’s father, Walter. What makes the story more interesting is Herb Brooks, the famous USA ice hockey team coach—whose team was victorious over the former Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics—who said: “You’d have to be a real idiot to skate to where the puck used to be.” He also said: “If everyone skated to where the puck is going, you would have one big train wreck.” This quote has been repeated by many business leaders, sports commentators and others, to illustrate the importance of reacting to change and thinking and acting proactively. There is no doubt that we are dealing with significant disruptions, both personally and professionally, caused by the pandemic.
Anticipating the next move
OK, so where am I going with this? Gretzky’s saying might not be the most applicable advice for us, but the NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
general idea is that we must always anticipate the next move of the puck and the players in the game. Agree? The game we are all playing now involves scoring points by anticipating what our customers’ needs will be post-pandemic, by possibly executing the following tactics: • developing new ways that your customers will purchase from you and identify who those buyers are; • getting to know your customers’ concept of a hybrid work environment, both temporary and long term, and how you can help them achieve their vision; • creating a sales support plan to meet the needs of work-at-home employees; • investing in a hybrid inside/ outside sales support model and e-commerce initiatives by deploying assets from the traditional outside sales model; • understanding how your customers define safety in the workplace and what makes their employees feel safe when returning to the office; • creating the resources that you need to anticipate where your customers will be; • taking the initiative to sell new products and provide creative solutions that create indisputable value for you; and INDEPENDENT DEALER
being a thought leader by investing in your understanding of the solutions available to the workforce and workplace environment, so when your customers ask, you have an answer.
Now, these tactics might appear daunting and you may not have the time or resources to address them. I understand; but that is why being a member of a large and progressive cooperative such as Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) helps. ISG staff, for example, are rapidly developing the framework of a comprehensive plan that specifically outlines not just the “Why” but, more importantly, the “How To” regarding education, new category suppliers, hiring and developing the inside sales team, enhancing e-commerce strategies, creating new partnerships/ alliances and presenting consultative selling techniques. I know times are challenging and it is impossible to predict what 2021/2022 will look like for our industry but with a positive and open mind, we will meet the goal of looking to see where the proverbial puck is headed. Mike Gentile is CEO of Independent Suppliers Group (ISG). PAGE 58
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE HAS A FUTURE
By Gary Frank Petty
Ignore everything you’re reading now about the end of company offices. Oh, yes, a brave new world of “home alone” work seems now and forever upon us. A $16 trillion commercial real estate market valuation is supposedly shrinking and will never come back. Suddenly, we’re told, the company office is dead. The old world of “cubbies” is over. Corner office tyranny is ended. Boisterous gadflies lingering around your action office furniture? A thing of yesteryear. Employee-of-the-week parking spaces? Now cracked asphalt and weeds. Long commutes to work and back? Never again. The future is everyone quietly working in their den alone with barking house dogs and buzzing leaf blowers swarming outside like giant wasps. Due to COVID-19, and out of necessity for public health and safety, companies have sent millions home to “Zoom” through their workdays. And while it’s true that the work is generally getting done, a lot is missing. The virtual workplace lacks the in-person dynamics of personal chemistry, body language, collaboration and innovation which are essential to trust and optimal productivity. Companies may be spending less and earning more, but at what cost? As the pandemic drags on, the novelty is wearing off. People miss the office culture, dressing for success, looking sharp to see and be seen, putting their best foot forward before others, showing off, getting ahead. The company office is where politics is played and careers are made or broken. Employees long for social connection with their fellow workers. The company office is the other half of their lives. It’s where they earn their keep, impress NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
bosses, make friends, sometimes find love, meet disappointment, get recognized and then return home to relax and enjoy their other life. “The company office will be a premier employee benefit of the 21st century,” says Ed Katz, an internationally recognized authority on office moving and corporate relocation trends, award-winning speaker and author, inventor, successful moving company entrepreneur and industry visionary. “The well-designed, healthy and attractive office will be a competitive advantage in recruiting and keeping talent.” Katz acknowledges that much work can technically be done at home and many workers function externally just fine without showing up each day at a company office. Full-time employees represent only 58 percent of the US workforce, with the other 42 percent comprised of external resources such as independent contractors, “gig” workers, freelancers, seasonal labor and outside staffing firms (source: SAP Fieldglass, The Future is External). With this mixture, the future workplace
will be a blend of company office, residential office, external third-party work sites and ad hoc workstations on the road. “Finding the right mix is key,” says Katz. “Talent, from whatever source, is corporate America’s top asset. It needs to be organized, managed directly and inspired.” Katz says once the pandemic subsides, “Corporations will reopen their properties and incentivize workers to come back to a new and more innovative office experience. The focus will be on aesthetically appealing work environments and the use of advanced technologies for health and safety wellbeing.” “I see the commercial business office roaring back to life,” concludes Katz. “For the majority of corporate employees, there is a company office in their future.” To learn more about the International Office Moving Institute (IOMI®) and its online office moving training, please visit www.officemoves.com/ training/index.html or contact Ed Katz on 404-358-2172 or at edkatz@ officemoves.com. Author Gary Frank Petty is the former president and CEO of the National Moving and Storage Association and the national certification institute for moving and relocation consultants.
By Tom Buxton
Since March this year, fear has gained a major foothold in the United States, Canada and the entire world. And its impact has not just been on individuals, like those I see almost daily going out of their way to avoid others, even though they are outside and wearing masks. Fear also resides within the businesses and business owners involved in our industry. Friends of mine from the vendor community have mentioned a phenomenon that they have observed in virtual meetings over the past few weeks, which is both fascinating and troubling. Many have told me that within the first minute of these calls, they can discern whether a spirit of fear or positivity prevails in the dealership. An atmosphere of gloom can quickly become pervasive; but NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
so too can a feeling of optimism. From my unofficial analysis and input from the dealer principals I know, the split between fear/ negativity and optimism/positivity is approximately 60:40. Many dealers are just trying to hang on and have been unable to capitalize on temporary growth opportunities in the PPE arena during the pandemic. At the same time, many owners and sales leaders have succumbed to the fear and negativity that now pervade our politics and, to a great extent, our world. It is even harder to celebrate a great holiday like Thanksgiving when you are told that you shouldn’t meet with friends and family, because it might cost you or a loved one their life. So, now that I have explained why many currently feel fearful or depressed, why should you INDEPENDENT DEALER
carry on reading? I hope you will continue, because I have two specific suggestions about how to move from fear to optimism. One is business related; the other is very personal. I have been honored over recent months to be part of a number of companies that have made and are making major changes to improve sales and profitability. And the good news is that they are succeeding. Did you know that your company can be successful in other lines of business besides copy paper, pens, pencils, labels and furniture? Don’t get me wrong—these products are still important to the office products world (and in many cases, your margins can increase on these commodities); but there are other opportunities for your company. And I’m not just talking about PPE. PAGE 60
Tom Buxton CONTINUED FROM PAGE 60 Have you ever wanted to sell to restaurants? Nope? I haven’t either— and what do we have that they would want? Well, it turns out that there are wholesalers like RJ Schinner that can help you compete with locally owned coffee houses and bistros for cups, plates, takeout materials and so on; and you just might sell some office products too. Large players in that industry are laying off workers and cannot source many normal products. Does that sound familiar? Other dealers are becoming more proactive in the cleaning space by learning to sell dilution systems to jails, hotels and other places office products dealers have never gone. Dealers that adapt their structure in order to have more capital to invest (see my last three columns for more information on how to restructure in order to redirect your capital) are “killing it” in these areas, because the larger suppliers have fired reps and reduced customer support. Do you see a pattern here, and the opportunities it presents? This plays right into the strengths of the IDC. So, please make a conscious decision in your business to replace fear and negativity with proactivity and optimism about the amazing number of products and services your company can sell.
Hopefully, you are more encouraged now than when you began this article; but I know that it is tough out there, both professionally and personally, for all of us right now. No one that I know has ever lived through the combination of issues and events that we face at the present time. Our business and personal lives are a struggle, and succumbing to fear sometimes seems like the easiest thing to do. So I would also like to quickly share why our family is saddened, hopeful, a bit nervous, but not especially fearful as we move toward the celebration of Christmas. We are very excited to celebrate Christmas as a family, and to take the angel’s declaration of, “Fear Not, I bring you tidings of Great Joy” in Luke 2:10-11 very personally, because this will possibly be our last Christmas with our younger daughter. For those of you who are parents, you can understand that this is the worst nightmare possible. Any of you would give up your life for your child if you could; but in most cases, it’s not possible. Caley has been fighting metastatic breast cancer for two years and it has now spread to her liver. So, what has this got to do with being a businessperson or not being afraid? Nothing and everything. You see, our daughter is very comfortable
with the idea of dying and going to meet her Savior Jesus Christ. As she joked a few months ago, “What has this world got right now that would make me want to stay?” If we are honest with ourselves, we always have fears about success, failure, family, life and death. And as much as our business lives pay the bills and feed our self-image, a deeper issue has hit us all since March this year. Death is the great equalizer and until now, we in North America have done a great job of ignoring its implications. How will you grow your business and, more importantly, how will you face the issues of life and death that have been thrown in our faces in 2020? This year could be seen as a blessing, because it has exposed many of the questions that have always been there, but can no longer be ignored. How we resolve these issues within our businesses and personal lives will impact everything we do on Earth and thereafter. In reference to our family and my business, God has given us an unbelievable sense of peace about Caley’s future and ours. I know that might sound crazy; but it’s true. We are praying that we will continue to focus on our eternal future as we move toward the celebration of Jesus’ birth this Christmas. Because of Jesus’ birth and sacrifice on the cross, we trust in his love for our daughter. So, we will be moving forward saddened, anxious to ensure that she endures as little pain as possible, but mostly unafraid as we face 2021. What about you? In addition to serving as national sales manager for AOPD, Tom Buxton, founder and CEO of the InterBizGroup consulting organization, works with independent office products dealers to help increase sales and profitability. Tom is also the author of a book on effective business development, Dating the Gatekeeper. For more information, visit www.interbizgroup.com.
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First of all, mea culpa: Iâ€™m as guilty as anyone else of what Iâ€™m about to write about. Iâ€™ve been focusedâ€”as so many other sales authors have beenâ€”on whatâ€™s been changing during 2020 (and the years immediately preceding). And itâ€™s true: the changes have been significant. Weâ€™ve seen entire industries being rocked or overturned. Weâ€™ve seen travel restricted and in some cases prohibited. Weâ€™ve seen technology take over some phases of selling. And yetâ€Ś thereâ€™s a lot that hasnâ€™t changed about selling. That is the focus of this article.
This motivation can come in a variety of methods: the customer could see an ad or receive a sales message (e.g., a cold call), or something in the customerâ€™s sphere could change (e.g., a broken machine or device could necessitate the purchase of a new device). This step is what gets the customer out of the status quo and (potentially) into a process to buy something. If you will, think of the most basic buying processâ€”lunch. The
motivator here is, â€œIâ€™m hungry and itâ€™s about noon.â€? What the salesperson must do at this stageâ€”assuming he or she is prospecting and attempting to initiate motivation in his or her customersâ€”is to give the customer a good and concise reason to entertain a conversation. The second step is investigation. In this step, the customer more fully defines his or her needs
People are still buying things. Salespeople are still selling things. And the customerâ€™s basic buying process is still intact. Customers buy things in a defined five-step process. The first step is motivation: the customer recognizes that a need may exist that could be satisfied by the purchase of goods or services. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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Troy Harrison CONTINUED FROM PAGE 62 and parameters. Depending on the customer, this can involve a simple internal dialogue, extensive internet research or (preferably) a comprehensive discovery/questioning phase with a salesperson. A knowledgeable and skilled salesperson can bring out needs that the customer might not have even recognized or defined. In the lunchtime process, the investigation usually is, “What kind of food sounds good and what’s near me?” The salesperson’s duty to the customer is to execute a quality discovery process, using open-ended, probing questions designed to discover customer needs—not just a few leading questions designed to maneuver a customer into a corner so he or she “can’t” not buy. In a B2B environment, the salesperson should be learning about the company’s overall needs and priorities, as well as its needs related to the salesperson’s products or services. The third step is selection. Having defined his or her needs, the customer then proceeds to figuring out which products or services best match them. This could hinge on product specifications, service availability, customer comfort or any other needs and parameters that the customer has established—but in this step, some products or services are included and some are excluded. For the salesperson, this is the presentation phase in selling. In the lunchtime scenario, the selection might be, “I want tacos [always a sure bet with me], and there are three Mexican places just up the street.” What the customer wants from the salesperson at this phase of the process is a targeted presentation (rather than a one-size-fits-all slide deck) on why the product solves the specific needs of the customer, rather than a blanket presentation. The salesperson should also be prepared to offer quality advice on the use and implementation of the product NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
or service—to genuinely be the consultant that so many salespeople claim to be. The fourth step is evaluation. This is the “price and terms” step of the process. The customer is asking, “Can I afford it? Does this represent good value? Are the terms and delivery acceptable?” For the salesperson, this is the proposal phase of selling. In my lunchtime scenario, I might think, “Well, there’s a very nice Mexican restaurant up the street, but it can take some time—I’d better go to the quick taco joint right here, because my time is tight.” At this stage, the customer needs simplicity in the proposal. Make the price and terms simple and easy to understand; the more words you use, the more uncertainty in the customer’s mind, which harms trust and customer comfort. The proposal doesn’t sell for you—it simply confirms the terms under which the customer buys. The fifth and final step is decision. This is where the customer either buys or doesn’t buy. This, in the lunchtime scenario, is where I pull into my taco joint (I’m writing this right before lunch—I bet you can guess what I’ll be having by now). What the customer wants from the salesperson in this closing phase is simple: ask the customer to buy.
Yes, the customer wants that—this brings a close to the process, one way or another, and the customer is expecting that. This process hasn’t changed, even through all the upheavals of 2020; and it won’t, because it is rooted in human nature. Yes, technology, COVID-19 and regulations have changed HOW many of these things happen; but they all still happen. That’s good news for us, because our profession is still vital and still important to our customers. So: learn new tools, learn new techniques and new contact methods—but remember how the customer buys. Moreover, respect how the customer buys. The arbiter of when it’s time to move from step to step is the customer—not you. The customer will let you know. If you attempt to push your customer through the process just to get a quick sale, he or she will disconnect. Troy Harrison is the author of Sell Like You Mean It! and The Pocket Sales Manager, and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces. To schedule a free 45-minute sales strategy review, call 913-645-3603 or email Troy@ TroyHarrison.com.
By Marisa Pensa
Picture yourself prospecting and asking for an appointment. You ask for the meeting something like this: “How does next Tuesday look on your schedule—can we say 2:00pm?” Three types of meetings can result from asking for appointments: virtual, phone and face to face. Every prospect has a meeting type preference, based on a variety of factors. One current trend in field sales is that, even if prospects are physically in the office, they are rarely seeing a salesperson as a first meeting. They may request a phone or virtual meeting for you to earn the right to come in for a face-to-face discussion, depending on your location and your prospect’s preferences. Regardless of the meeting type, the responsibility rests on your shoulders to bring excellence to each interaction and prepare well!
Here are some tips to accomplish just that…
1. Virtual meetings
A clear challenge in conducting a virtual meeting is coming across as confident, authentic and trustworthy when you can’t be physically present. But this can be achieved with the right planning, a strong sales narrative and visual cues to elevate your virtual presence. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
Consider these best practices as you prepare for your next virtual meeting: • Always have a welcome page and agenda when your prospect enters the meeting. This will reassure your prospect they are in the right place. Displaying the agenda reminds them of the purpose of the meeting, and you can use the welcome page to include your logo and the prospect’s logo, adding personalization. • Open your presentation and documents so you are ready to share. Your prospect doesn’t want to wait around while you fumble to find the right documents at the start of the meeting. Make sure you have all of the presentations and documents you want to share open and ready to go. • Make a smooth transition from small talk to the purpose of the meeting. Knowing when you should “get down to business” and move on from small talk (or trust talk) can be tricky. There’s no need to rush, but you’ll put everyone at ease if you control the flow and navigate this transition smoothly. • Engage your prospects through annotation. Collaboration is key when it comes to engaging your prospect during a virtual meeting. You can use the annotation feature in your meeting software to get your INDEPENDENT DEALER
prospect’s attention and ask them to change or clarify whatever you’re showing on the screen.
2. Phone meetings
Are you finding some prospects are simply burned out on virtual meetings? Could they have a case of “Zoom gloom?” A phone meeting is still a meeting and it drives new business. It may not be ideal, but don’t let that stop you from using the phone as a virtual selling tool. That said, having no visual cues presents a challenge when you can’t show and tell or read the prospect’s body language. To help you make the most of your phone meetings, consider these best practices: • Send a visual. Since your prospect won’t be looking at your screen like they would in a virtual meeting, send something via email right before the call—whether a company overview, e-brochure or snapshots of your work. It’s important to give them something to look at, so you both have a reference point. • Maximize the power of the phone. A huge advantage of talking by phone is you can avoid the feeling of your brain being on overdrive like it can feel on a video call—multi-tasking, searching for body language clues PAGE 64
Marisa Pensa CONTINUED FROM PAGE 64 and missing the eye contact. We can just talk, ask and listen carefully, really hearing a person’s tone of voice. Lean into the power of the phone and the advantage of being fully present. Relax and create an engaging conversation. • Follow up with a video. Personalized videos have power. This cannot be stressed enough—especially for those prospects who preferred a phone meeting. Utilize a program like Vidyard or Soapbox. Grab a white board, write your prospect’s name on it and record a 45-second to one-minute video to say thanks and share a final thought. If you felt you were not able to convey your enthusiasm and genuine interest over the phone, this video will do the trick!
Face-to-face meetings are few and far between these days, so you want to be well prepared if you are able to secure them.
Consider these things before you go your next in-person meeting: • Confirm any safety protocols before you get to the office or facility. After confirming your onsite “Tuesday at 2:00pm” meeting, ask a couple questions, such as: “Do I need to go through a special entrance?”; “Do I need to sign a waiver before arriving?”; “Are there any safety protocols I can be aware of so that I’m respectful of your staff’s preferences?” Come assuming you’ll wear a mask and follow their lead on comfort level. The key here is to understand the rules of conduct for outside visitors and be respectful of those rules. • Have printed and electronic options. Bring your laptop to share any visuals, just in case handouts are not permitted. As much as possible, plan well in advance and be ready for anything! • Smile and express your gratitude
for this much-needed personal interaction. By agreeing to this meeting, the customer or prospect has demonstrated they value you. And by sitting down with them in person, you have demonstrated you value their business. That’s a win for everyone. So go ahead: keep on dialing and asking for appointments. Be flexible and respectful in your quest to secure one of the three types of meetings. All this will bring you one step closer to achieving your sales goals and financial goals—both now and in the months and years to come. Much prospecting success to you! Marisa Pensa is founder of Methods in Motion, a sales training company that helps dealers execute training concepts and create accountability to see both inside and outside sales initiatives through to success. For more information, visit www.methodsnmotion.com.
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By Alicia Raeburn
PREPARING YOUR OFFICE SUPPLY BUSINESS FOR A GROWING WORK-FROMHOME POPULATION There’s no doubt about it: quarantine has changed the workplace. As we venture into the fourth quarter of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, with no definitive end in sight, it’s time to start accepting these changes may be permanent. As an office supply business, this may seem negative at first glance. What will happen to the large, bustling offices with a fax machine in every corner that needs servicing and an endless demand for printer paper? Large office spaces (and their demand for your services) might decrease, but with that comes an increase in home office needs. A culture that is working remotely might change how your office supply business operates; but with careful planning and preparation, this can be a positive opportunity for growth.
Many companies are offering employee stipends to set up home offices instead of purchasing the materials themselves. This means you need to target these employees directly. Instead of selling bulk orders through one office manager, you may now have to sell to individuals. For many office dealers, this is a completely new market. Equip your sales and marketing team with the skills to engage it.
through bundled packages. Curate a home office bundle with popular products, including small printers, wireless keyboards, mousepads, monitors and risers. Brand it with a clever name, such as “Today’s Tech Essentials,” and market it at a discounted rate to customers, who can then offer it as a “perk” to remote employees.
Go beyond your traditional product portfolio
When the lockdown first started, PPE shortages crippled the supply chain. Office dealers were quick to react, stocking up on electrostatic sprayers, temperature scanners, floor decals and barriers. It was a big win for many in the industry, where dealers both filled a critical need and created a profitable new category that did not exist before. Demand for PPE and related supplies continues. To stay relevant, it is crucial that workplace solutions providers represent these categories. Add a “COVID-19 Essentials” header and list each category with the relevant products: disinfectants, cold and flu
supplies, barriers, floor decals and PPE. Market them through email blasts and social media campaigns. Turn your website into a sales tool for these new categories. Watch for similar opportunities to arise. Think about how remote workers spend their days. They are often in front a computer, typing, using software and attending virtual meetings. Expand your product line to include video lighting, professional backdrops and higher-quality microphones for conference calls. Or feature a new line of standing desks for workers who aren’t used to sitting all day. Tap into the “new normal” of workplace solutions and make them available to your customers.
Consider at home delivery
If you serve a local marketplace or have the means to do it nationally, offer at-home delivery for individual employees. This will not only set you apart from other workplace solutions providers, but also allow you to compete with established online retail stores. The landscape may be different, but workplace solutions providers remain relevant and essential to all workspaces. Position your business to capitalize on this new remote work and adapted office environment and you will be in a position of growth. Alicia Raeburn is a content marketing strategist at Fortune Web Marketing. To find out more visit www.fortunewebmarketing.com
Bulk orders of a single product will become less common. While you won’t be selling 20 printers or packages of Post-it Notes at a time, there are still opportunities to sell large quantities NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
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